The year is 1998, and the Bill Clinton/Monica Lewinsky scandal is lighting up
the airwaves. In a small New England town, a classics professor, Coleman Silk
(Anthony Hopkins), has just had his career come to an abrupt end after allegedly
uttering a racial epithet during class one day. Also reeling from the death of
his wife, Silk finds comfort in the arms of Faunia (Nicole Kidman), a much
younger woman who has seen her fair share of hell. As the two
try to figure out their relationship, Silk's friend, Nathan
Zuckerman (Gary Sinise) decides to research Silk's past, and finds out that the
professor denounced his African-American heritage long ago (seen in flashback to
the 1950s), and has spent decades trying to overcome his web of lies and
Based on the intricate novel by Philip Roth, "The Human Stain" (IMDb listing) examines the life
that has been invented due to shame and fear. The film starts off with one huge
whopper: that Anthony Hopkins is playing a light-skinned African-American.
There's no escaping the odd choice for the role by director Robert Benton
("Nobody's Fool," "Kramer Vs. Kramer"), but the film doesn't make too big a deal
out of it, letting actor Wentworth Miller (playing the younger Silk) bear the
brunt of that subplot. Still, Hopkins is as controlled and defeated as he's ever
been, giving a fine performance up against the acting roadblock of
is really two movies in one (Coleman's past and the present), with Benton
attempting to connect the tales seamlessly, but often failing to do so. "Stain"
is a compelling, thoughtful drama, adapted with depth and ease by Nicholas Meyer
("Star Trek II"), but it does fall into melodramatic traps now and again.
A palatable sense of intimacy is what a veteran like Benton brings to "Stain."
The filmmaker takes time and measured effort in trying to bring Coleman and
Faunia together. I will be the first to admit that this pairing is an unusual
one. It bends the limits of disbelief even further with a rare unkind
performance from Nicole Kidman that isn't quite believable. Cinematographer Jean-Yves Escoffer (who recently passed away)
bathes the cast in gorgeous golden hues, and Benton instructs the lovers to
speak in hushed tones, creating a dreamlike atmosphere for the story's integral
post-coital revelations of secrets and longing. "Human Stain" is an emotionally
charged film, allowing each character to have a theatrical outburst or two, but
the best moments are the ones when the pace is slowed down, the clothes are
removed, and the inner fire of lost souls begins to burn. That's when the
audience learns just what "The Human Stain" is all about.
Filmfodder Grade: B+