Cinema Signal:

Portnoy's Complaint
Another novel by Philip Roth


. "The Human Stain"

As you've probably heard, this story has to do with a young woman in an affair with a man in his mid-sixties. It's an element with considerable intrigue, arising from character needs, but there's more going on in this Philip Roth novel adaptation than what's indicated by the age issue.

It's the story of Coleman Silk (Anthony Hopkins), a classics professor who is unseated from his position for a remark uttered in an innocent context that has been reinterpreted in a political one and, therefore, grounds for dismissal. Ironically, this dean of faculty has a secret that might have saved him his job were he willing to disclose it. Instead, he and his wife start a campaign to rebel, the excitement of which causes his wife to die of a heart attack.

Seeking justice, Coleman looks up idle novelist Nathan Zuckerman (Gary Sinise), the presumptive author of this story told in flashbacks, to get him to write his biography as a means to clear his name and accuse the college of killing his wife. Nathan rejects the proposal on the dual premise that he's blocked and that he doesn't do biographies. But, this doesn't prevent the pair from developing a friendship steeped in several common interests besides the literary one.

Meanwhile, the grieving husband and ex-professor meets Faunia Farley (Nicole Kidman) a very hot 32-year old with some needs and secrets of her own that have her on the edge of emotional stability. Having lost her children in a car accident, she has to deal with oppressive grief and with her psychotic ex-husband Lester (Ed Harris) who blames her for their loss. Forget restraining orders with this guy who keeps coming back to her, to unbalance and threaten, expressing a desire for a reunion but intimidating with the icy stolidity of a mad man. It's about enough to explain how she might seek the mature steadiness of the ex-professor with some emotional baggage of his own.

The scenario becomes one of several time lines as the revelations of Coleman's background and identity emerge. It's all wrapped up in the love and the ex-husband's threats intensifying inexorably on a path toward wreckage and irony.

While all these threads are manageable, they make for a story complexity that's, perhaps, more tightly wound that they needed to be but, once on its way in this structure, screenwriter Nicholas Meyer ("Sommersby", "Star Trek IV") and director Robert Benton ("Billy Bathgate", "Being There") take you on a journey not without the intrigue of personal mystery. You might not buy the pile-up of story lines and interaction of premises, but going along with it might well find you attached to the varied issues it raises. It is, at least, an intelligent foray into the human experience.

The movie's nature and content brings together a team of actors that's about as good as it gets and the ravishing, slim hipped Nicole Kidman has a few moments of sufficient artistry to give the members of the Academy some pause when they consider this year's nominations. And Hopkins isn't chopped liver, either.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  




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Nicole Kidman and Anthony Hopkins
The attraction of the needy

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