Human Stain

Movie Review by Stephen Doyle

Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Nicole Kidman, Ed Harris, Gary Sinise, Wentworth Miller
Director: Robert Benton

THE HUMAN STAIN is an odd film, and for the most part a truly terrible one. Utterly pretentious in some places and quite ridiculous in others. It becomes one of the least engrossing films I have seen in a long time, and I came very close to walking out after the first hour.

The premise of the movie, based on a Phillip Roth novel, does have potential. Coleman Silk (Anthony Hopkins) is a classics professor of great renown, who claims to be Jewish. He unfairly loses his job when an innocent comment he makes is interpreted as an offensive racial remark about Afro-Americans. Jobless and bitter he embarks on a friendship with reclusive author Nathan Zuckerman (Gary Sinise) as well as a passionate affair with the mysterious and much younger Faunia Farely (Nicole Kidman). It turns out that Coleman and Faunia have many dark secrets in their closets which are revealed as the film progresses.

In fact, the film revolves around a particularly momentous secret of Silk’s, which unfortunately I cannot reveal here, as I believe it is intended to come as a major surprise when it is revealed half way through the film. However, I wish I could reveal it, as this secret, and the background scenes that accompany it, are quite the best things about the movie. They involve themes of identity, race and family ties which are actually developed quite well.

The plot as a whole though, as presented in this film, remains unconvincing and implausible, as are the characters. The relationship between Faunia and Coleman is not believable for an instant. Likewise, all the dark secrets of Faunia and Coleman fail to convince, instead they seem like they are added on in a fruitless attempt to give the characters depth. The sex scenes between Kidman and Hopkins are quite an absurd sight.

In fact the whole film is full of incongruous images and moments. Some scenes are so bad they become painful to watch. For example, the scene in which Anthony Hopkins unexpectedly breaks out into dance, first on his own and then with Gary Sinise partnering him. This alone is totally cringe-worthy but things get much worse a few moments later when Hopkins delivers a deeply embarrassing speech about the joys of Viagra.

Kidman has more than her fair share of dire moments too. Her cringe-worthy moments occur when she too performs an unsightly ‘dance’. Next up, she delivers monologue to a confused looking crow. Her worst moment, though, must be when she melodramatically takes out two boxes of ashes from under her bed and tearfully proclaims ‘these are my children!’ (don’t ask). I couldn’t resist furtively glancing around the cinema to see if the audience shared my feelings of disbelief at what we were seeing.

As it should be easy to gather by now, I think this film is atrocious. If you want to see a well-acted and moving drama, with a complex plot and rich characters, may I recommend that you watch Clint Eastwood’s MYSTIC RIVER, whilst steering well clear of THE HUMAN STAIN.

1 out of 6 stars

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