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Overall Rating

Awesome: 11.43%
Worth A Look: 21.43%
Average: 7.14%
Pretty Bad42.86%
Total Crap: 17.14%

6 reviews, 34 user ratings

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Human Stain, The
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by Erik Childress

"I Was Born A Poor Black Child"
1 stars

There’s an incredible irony at the center of The Human Stain that none of the filmmakers seemed to have picked up on. An opening narration sets the scene in 1998, a period after the fall of communism and before the rise of terrorism when the country was fascinated with “cocksucking.” This was the time of the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal when political correctness achieved new levels as an oxymoron. Coleman Silk is about to get caught up in his own PC-nightmare, but just as we’re intrigued to follow his course, the wonder of Viagra rears its ugly mushroom-shaped head and points us in the direction of a laughable story that continually contradicts it’s own paradoxes.

Silk (Anthony Hopkins) is a successful English classics professor. When a pair of students are absent for his class (for the 5th time), he questions or not whether they even exist, calling them “spooks”. The first definition that comes to your head will tell you a lot about yourself.

When one of the African-American students files a complaint and the school board, fearing scandal, don’t back him up, Silk resigns and seeks out Nathan Zuckerman (Gary Sinise), a local writer to help pen his outrage. Since the film will be told in flashback after flashforward, we’re in the same boat as the Zuck when he finds out secondhand about Faunia Farley (Nicole Kidman). Soon, Coleman (and the film) doesn’t care about the politics that separated him from his job, as an unbelievable secret from his past (and present) is about to be revealed to us.

Upcoming spoiler If you don't already know the big secret.

Seems Silk ain’t a Jewish name, nor is it French, yet the color of the synonymous pie could be described as white chocolate. That’s right, Anthony Hopkins is a black man in this film; one great big lilywhite session that even Dave Matthews couldn’t find on Grey Street. OK, so maybe its not something to be made light of and certainly not the most implausible of plausibilities. I remember when I was 10 years old and not realizing that Lonette McKee was black in Brewster’s Millions. But taking it at just face value is too PC for its own good.

Like many black men and women under similar circumstances did in the time of oppression, the young Coleman (Wentworth Miller) found it easier to conceal his color then to face the concept of tact. During these sensitive times, how thickheaded is he to wonder what’s wrong after he brings his white girlfriend (Jacinda Barrett) home to big momma’s house to reveal his secret identity?

The second half of this film is a collage of misappropriated plot threads and heavy-handed messages which raise more chuckles than ires. Hopkins and Kidman are playing such cold characters (what do you expect with such snowy, frostbitten landscapes?) that any heat sparked by their sexual escapades is smothered immediately by their personalities resulting in subzero chemistry. Faunia’s got secrets of her own and a crazed Vietnam vet ex-husband (Ed Harris) to match. A film has to go way out of its way to make me cringe the next appearance of one of my favorite actors in Harris. The Human Stain goes past even that point.

Having not read the original novel by Pullitzer Prize winner Philip Roth, I have to wonder where this story (in any form) thought it was going by including the Coleman/Faunia relationship. How much lost passion could Coleman have really missed out on being a white man, who lost one hottie only to gain another until death do they part? By middle-loading the film with Coleman’s “last love” isn’t it essentially like wagging the dog away from more important issues to concentrate on cocksucking?

That phantom third plot thread does overwhelm the proceedings in the second half and it couldn’t have been handled more meandering nor condescending in the interest of easy politics. Everything is handled with a jerked knee and portrayed without an ounce of risk. You live a lie and ostracize your family, they disown you right back. Nicholas Meyer’s adaptation must have been trying to hit every point of Roth’s novel that he even condenses most of it into a horribly written scene where Coleman’s lawyer (Clark Gregg) goes over every scenario and its potential consequence. By the time it should be over, Sinise still has to have two more sitdowns, tacking on another 10 minutes and, I think, another eight flashbacks before we can escape and realize there’s nothing really to ponder.

At his best, Director Robert Benton has made a career out of terrific character portraits (Kramer vs. Kramer, Places in the Heart, Nobody’s Fool) and the one thing they all had in common was a great script with the ability to cover a broad, yet intimate landscape with a variety of personalities. He doesn’t have that here. Race relations have been dealt with in a variety of ways. Some good, some bad and even some as laughable as The Human Stain. Coleman Silk is told to be proud of his race. That is, the black Coleman. As a white heterosexual male, despite all the conveniences of societal acceptance, Coleman would not be allowed the luxury to announce such pride. Maybe that’s not politically correct to suggest, but I thought that’s the kind of dialogue The Human Stain wants to open up. As one character in the movie says, “action is the enemy of thought.” This film is all action.

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originally posted: 10/31/03 17:06:59
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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

6/04/15 Anne Mixed as far as talent goes, disjointed 3 stars
9/03/08 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
6/22/06 TB Too many flashback in the film=Dull 2 stars
6/19/06 chienne another film stuffed up by Kidman, when will they stop her making them? 1 stars
11/15/05 BoyInTheDesignerBubble Spook is a racist name. I'll forgive you for not knowing that. 4 stars
8/26/05 Indrid Cold Anthony Hopkins as an African American (!) is not as interesting as it sounds. 3 stars
5/17/05 m orwig spectacular performances 5 stars
3/07/05 ad sucks 1 stars
10/23/04 ODH Great ideas, but poor direction/storytelling and bad casting limit the film 3 stars
9/29/04 Harry D Anthony Hopkins make this one more than worthwhile. He is authentic. 4 stars
9/16/04 Terry McGuffage Why was she talking to a crow? This may actually be the worst movie I have ever seen. 1 stars
9/16/04 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
8/04/04 Beth too long, too much of Kidman, and boring 2 stars
7/25/04 Kyle the cat great acting,good beginning,poor ending 4 stars
7/19/04 hollywood Hopkins miscast. No mystery, suspense at all. 2 stars
5/17/04 kasper absolute crap... boring, miscast and confusing 1 stars
3/26/04 rojo Genuine emotion in this movie, really liked it. 5 stars
1/26/04 Vladislava Vojnovic Screenwriters work! 4 stars
1/21/04 Betty White Hopkins is miscast, but still good in this masterful film. 5 stars
12/09/03 Lyn Superb movie, especially for those who believe in the universal law of cause and effect. 5 stars
12/08/03 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
12/02/03 illconceivedplot I agree this film has some ragged edges, bizarre transitions, and implausible twists. 3 stars
11/28/03 atirupa great 5 stars
11/26/03 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
11/07/03 Cameron Slick Not completely cohesive but with great acting and intrigue. 4 stars
11/06/03 Kooler What a snooze! Plus: gross old man sex. Yurg. 2 stars
11/04/03 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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