The Human Stain (tbc)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner29/10/2003

Two out of Five stars
Running time: 106 mins

Poorly structured, badly scripted and terribly miscast drama that bungles its central idea – not unwatchable but not far off.

Frankly, a film with a title like The Human Stain is asking for trouble. It must have looked good on paper – a cast of Oscar-nominated actors, a script by acclaimed scriptwriter Nicholas Meyer, from a best-selling novel by Philip Roth and a respected director with a decent pedigree (Kramer vs Kramer, Nobody’s Fool).

Unfortunately, the adaptation is severely hampered by the fact that there’s no way to make the book’s central conceit work on the screen. In addition, Kidman is extremely miscast and the film suffers considerably.

Clinton Parallels

Set in 1998 (during the attempts to impeach Bill Clinton, with which the film draws a very clumsy parallel), The Human Stain stars Anthony Hopkins as Jewish college professor Coleman Silk. As the movie opens he’s railroaded out of his job following an overly politically correct interpretation of his use of the work “spooks” – shortly afterwards, his wife dies of a heart attack from the resulting stress.

His personal and professional life shattered, Coleman shows up on the doorstep of blocked writer Nathan Zukerman (Gary Sinise) and the two strike up a friendship.

Meanwhile, Coleman begins an affair with Faunia Farley (Nicole Kidman), The Most Glamorous Janitor In The World and a woman more than 30 years his junior (and yet he still needs Viagra, or so he tells us). Unfortunately, she has a psycho ex-husband (Ed Harris) still hanging around – there’s a glorious moment where you think Hopkins and Harris are going to have a no-holds barred punch-up, but sadly it never happens.

At the same time, seemingly random flashbacks reveal that Coleman has lived his whole life as a lie. (If you don’t want to know what that lie involves, kindly skip the next paragraph).

Here Comes The Twist…

Now you may be thinking that Anthony Hopkins is odd casting for a Jewish character. There’s a good reason for that – he’s actually meant to be black. Yep, that’s his secret – he comes from a black family, which will no doubt be highly amusing to anyone who’s seen Steve Martin’s The Jerk (“You mean I’m gonna STAY this colour?”).

Admittedly the role would have been extremely difficult to cast anyway and Hopkins does the best he can, but he doesn’t even resemble the actor who plays him as a young man (Wentworth Miller). In addition, the revelation is badly handled, stripping the moment of any dramatic impact.

The flashback sections of the film are actually the most enjoyable as you can pretend you’re watching a different film. There are, however, two excruciatingly embarrassing striptease sequences – one in either section - that should probably have been dropped.

As for Kidman, she’s woefully miscast, despite her attempts to hide behind a shaggy perm and a whispery “sultry” voice. Amusingly, there’s more chemistry between Gary Sinise and Hopkins than there is between Hopkins and Kidman, especially in the film’s best scene – Hopkins pulling off some impressive Fred Astaire moves and forcing a reluctant Sinise into ‘Dancing Cheek to Cheek’.

In short, this is a disappointing film, given the talent involved. A couple of decent scenes save it from being unwatchable but it’s a fairly dull film, if not exactly – ahem - a stain on the careers of those involved.

Film Trailer

The Human Stain (tbc)
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Content updated: 19/10/2017 23:09

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