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Overall Rating

Awesome: 11.43%
Worth A Look: 21.43%
Just Average: 7.14%
Pretty Crappy42.86%
Sucks: 17.14%

6 reviews, 34 user ratings

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Human Stain, The
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by Robert Flaxman

"Good, but still a letdown."
4 stars

Great books rarely make good movies, largely due to the constraints of film. Hundreds of pages are not easily condensed into two hours, and so changes are made. Supporting characters are downgraded or forgotten entirely. Plots are cut for time or smashed together to fit everything in. In addition, important plot points and even themes can be changed on the way to the screen (think about John Huston's Moby Dick, in which Ahab kills the whale and ends up with the girl, a complete reversal of Melville's novel).

The film adaptation of Philip Roth's The Human Stain, written by Nicholas Meyer and directed by Robert Benton, does all of these things. In choosing to focus on a theme that Roth himself seemed content to leave on the back burner, however, the film succeeds as something separate from the novel (all the best adaptations are able to have this distance without destroying the author's original intentions).

Coleman Silk (Anthony Hopkins) is a classics professor at a liberal arts college in Massachusetts who resigns in disgrace after a supposed incident of racism is blown out of proportion. He goes to see novelist Nathan Zuckerman (Gary Sinise), a Roth regular, and the two become friends. It is through Zuckerman that we learn the details of Coleman's life, including his affair with Faunia Farley (Nicole Kidman).

Coleman and Faunia pair off initially for no real reason - mutual loneliness, perhaps. It turns out that the two have much more in common, though we learn Faunia's story through her various fits of emotion and Coleman's story through managed flashback.

Coleman has been passing for Jewish for the better part of fifty years - but, as it turns out, he is really a very light-skinned black man. Having lost his first love due to his race, Coleman turned his back on his African-American heritage (much to the anger and dismay of his family, most of whom disowned him) and passed himself off as a white man, never even telling his wife of 40 years.

Faunia, too, was disowned by her family, and Coleman seems to recognize in her a kindred spirit - a disgust for where she came from, and the need to hide from it. She is also hiding from a deranged ex-husband, Lester (Ed Harris), who blames her for the death of their children in a fire and seems to have an anti-Semitic streak running through him.

This is where The Human Stain runs into its problems. Even someone unfamiliar with the book should be able to see the scissor marks, which are everywhere. It's easy to see that Lester's role was much more fleshed out in the book; here he has only a few scenes, and his anti-Semitic comments about Coleman seem more designed to stamp "bad guy" on his forehead than to deepen his character. Roth's book focused very much on the American landscape of the mid-to-late 1990s, but the film uses the time period as a backdrop, not as a reference.

Cutting is a necessity in the transition to film, so it should not be an automatic problem - and it's not, but that the cuts are so obvious is. To wonder why something came up only to be neglected for the rest of the film is distracting.

Making up for that problem are the performances, which are excellent. Hopkins, Kidman, and Sinise are all great, and Harris is good too, though quite underused. If a lesser actor were playing the part of Coleman, it would be easier to say, "Well, come on - even supposedly passing for white for 50 years, I don't believe for a second he's the least bit black." With Hopkins, it never even comes up. Also excellent is newcomer Wentworth Miller, playing the young Coleman - he goes toe to toe with Hopkins as they play the same character, and holds his own.

The Human Stain wants to do too much and simultaneously not enough, and it sort of falls all over itself trying to cram as much as it can into a slim 100 minutes. It still holds up thematically, and has some nice performances, but it feels like a rush was put on the plot, which makes for a less enjoyable watch than it would otherwise have provided. This is not to say that it is not a good film - it is - but it could have been more.

All the pieces were there for The Human Stain to be a great film, but they didn't all make it to the screen.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=8284&reviewer=385
originally posted: 10/11/04 03:50:40
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Starz Denver Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Starz Denver Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Chicago Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Chicago Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

6/03/15 Anne Mixed as far as talent goes, disjointed 3 stars
9/02/08 Shaun Wallner Boring not worth it! 1 stars
10/22/06 William Goss Self-indulgent awards bait that clumsily attempts literary scope. Unfulfilling. 2 stars
6/21/06 TB Too many flashback in the film=Dull 2 stars
6/18/06 chienne another film stuffed up by Kidman, when will they stop her making them? 1 stars
11/14/05 BoyInTheDesignerBubble Spook is a racist name. I'll forgive you for not knowing that. 4 stars
8/25/05 Indrid Cold Anthony Hopkins as an African American (!) is not as interesting as it sounds. 3 stars
5/16/05 m orwig spectacular performances 5 stars
3/06/05 ad sucks 1 stars
10/23/04 ODH Great ideas, but poor direction/storytelling and bad casting limit the film 3 stars
9/28/04 Harry D Anthony Hopkins make this one more than worthwhile. He is authentic. 4 stars
9/15/04 Terry McGuffage Why was she talking to a crow? This may actually be the worst movie I have ever seen. 1 stars
9/15/04 Doc Shock Boring. Unlikeable characters. 2 stars
8/09/04 ownerofdajoint best movie kidman has ever done see it for her..hopkins is regular excellent self also,,, 4 stars
8/03/04 Beth too long, too much of Kidman, and boring 2 stars
7/24/04 Kyle the cat great acting,good beginning,poor ending 4 stars
7/18/04 hollywood Hopkins miscast. No mystery, suspense at all. 2 stars
5/17/04 kasper absolute crap... boring, miscast and confusing 1 stars
3/25/04 rojo Genuine emotion in this movie, really liked it. 5 stars
1/26/04 Vladislava Vojnovic Screenwriters work! 4 stars
1/20/04 Betty White Hopkins is miscast, but still good in this masterful film. 5 stars
12/08/03 Lyn Superb movie, especially for those who believe in the universal law of cause and effect. 5 stars
12/07/03 Marcin very well done and perfect acting both of them(KIdman and Hopkins) making good feeling 5 stars
12/05/03 MacGregor A film for thoughtful people. Should win Oscar. Geezer R scenes are gross!! 5 stars
12/01/03 illconceivedplot I agree this film has some ragged edges, bizarre transitions, and implausible twists. 3 stars
11/27/03 atirupa great 5 stars
11/25/03 viewer Well acted well told story 4 stars
11/22/03 john interesting, good acting, Nocole Kidman yes in deedie 4 stars
11/13/03 gloria flashbacks are probably more worth seeing than performances by nicole and anthony 4 stars
11/06/03 Cameron Slick Not completely cohesive but with great acting and intrigue. 4 stars
11/05/03 Kooler What a snooze! Plus: gross old man sex. Yurg. 2 stars
11/03/03 nik anthony hopkins? wouldn't bill cosby have worked as well here? 1 stars
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  31-Oct-2003 (R)
  DVD: 12-Apr-2011



Directed by
  Robert Benton

Written by
  Nicholas Meyer

  Anthony Hopkins
  Nicole Kidman
  Ed Harris
  Gary Sinise
  Jacinda Barrett
  Ron Canada

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