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Human Stain, The

Reviewed By Elaine Perrone
Posted 07/24/04 00:04:28

"A terrible blot on two illustrious careers."
2 stars (Pretty Crappy)

I expect The Human Stain will turn up on plenty of Ten Worst lists this year, and deservedly so. Preposterously cast, plodding in pace, and anachronistic in "feel," just about everything about this film is wrong. It is as icy and bereft as the drive along a snow-covered rural road that bookends its beginning and end.

Each has an Oscar-baiting scene, but neither Anthony Hopkins nor Nicole Kidman is remotely believable -- he as a 72 year old Jewish man with a secret going back over 50 years, she as his 34 year old girlfriend, a trailer-trash janitor. One has to wonder where the hell Martin Landau and Robin Wright Penn or Jennifer Connelly were when the roles of Coleman Silk and Faunia Farley were up for grabs, and how and when Coleman, who was reared and continued to live in the American midwest, picked up the Welsh accent.

At one point, Coleman describes Faunia as being, "[not] my first love, or my great love, but she is my last love." That we're supposed to accept her as any sort of love is asking a lot of the audience, given the complete absence of chemistry between Hopkins and Kidman.

The two bright spots in the cast are Wentworth Miller, who plays Coleman as a young man, and Anna Devere Smith as the mother he betrays. Besides being a fine actor, Miller is perfectly suited to the part physically, unlike Hopkins, to whom he bears not even the slightest resemblance.

Also miscast, although I have no quibble with his performance, is Gary Sinese, who is simply far too young for the role of novelist Nathan Zuckerman, the man Coleman envisions to write his memoirs.

Ed Harris is terribly underutilized as Faunia's psychotic ex-husband Lester, a character shredded mercilessly in translation from book to screen.

Philip Roth's source novel, set in 1998, during the height of the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal, is a biting satire on political correctness run amok. Here, the setting is the same but seems largely irrelevant.

Having wasted the 106 minutes I'd love to have back, about all I can do is quickly forget the unfortunate experience. Hopkins, Kidman, Sinese and Harris deserve better -- and so did I.

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