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Human Stain, The

Miramax // R // October 31, 2002
List Price: Unknown

Review by Megan Denny | posted October 28, 2003 | E-mail the Author
The Human Stain

It's that time of year again. The time when arthouse cinemas across the nation stink to high heaven with A-list actors doing the Oscar dance in cinematic garbage.

The novel The Human Stain is based on was described as "un-filmable." Which, of course, means someone had to make a film out of it. Disorganized, badly written and poorly cast, I can only hope this film hobbles away quickly in order to make room for something better.

The film opens with a car accident and then goes back in time to explain the events which lead up to the crash. The scene manages to rip off both The English Patient and The Sweet Hereafter and that was just the beginning of 106 minutes of blatant and disgusting Oscar pandering.

Oscar-winner Anthony Hopkins plays a college professor named Coleman Silk. After being fired from his position as dean of a Massachusetts college, Silk's wife dies of shock. Soon after, Silk approaches an author named Zuckerman to write his life story. The film then enters into a flashback to Coleman's college days as an NYU cassanova and it seems the film is going to progress in a logical way: alternating between real-life and flashback through Coleman's life. If it were only that simple.

We flashback to the present day where Coleman begins an affair with janitor named Faunia. At this point, the whole first 20 minutes of set up are completely discarded. The author character practically disappears from the film and now the picture seems to be about Coleman's relationship with the sexy insane janitor. Nicole Kidman is simply awful in this role. She is wholly unbelievable as a working class woman and the way she whispers all of her dialogue to convey intensity was embarrassingly bad. It was almost as though she were participating in an SNL parody of herself. The intimate scenes between Coleman and Fawnia were, at best, creepy and made me want to change my clothes when I got home.

Throughout the film, the characters allude to a secret in Coleman's past. When the secret is revealed, the first thing that came to my mind was, "Why in God's name did they cast Anthony Hopkins in this role?" Then I wondered why the filmmakers chose to make Coleman's past a side story. It's infinitely more interesting than the lackluster romance of two unlikable people. I won't reveal the secret, though other reviewers probably will, but let me just say it involves race relations.

I was shocked to discover Robert Benton directed The Human Stain. An Oscar-winning screenwriter should have picked a better script and a better casting director. In one scene, after Fawnia reveals to Coleman what happened to her children and then freaks out and screams, "What the hell are you looking at!?! Get out of here!" Good grief. Give Juliette Lewis back her role.

The supporting cast is much more amiable. Wentworth Miller delivers a fine performance as the young Coleman Silk and Ed Harris is excellent as Fawnia's insane ex-husband who is also (surprise) a Vietnam veteran. Still, for the six or seven scenes in which these actors shine, there are dozens of painfully contrived scenes where the film meanders into a wasteland devoid of any emotion or intelligence.

The Human Stain talks a lot and says nothing. It's almost offensive how the filmmakers have shunted to the side Coleman's secret past in order to make room for more shots of Nicole Kidman in bed. I highly discourage anyone from seeing this film.

-Megan A, Denny



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