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USA 2003
Directed by
Robert Benton
106 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Ruth Williams
2.5 stars

The Human Stain

Synopsis: Coleman Silk (Anthony Hopkins) is a Professor of Classics at a small New England college. On the verge of retirement, he finds himself in an intolerable situation when he is accused of a racial slur against two African-American students. One unfortunate event leads to another and before long, Silk finds himself confiding in a reclusive writer, Nathan Zuckerman (Gary Sinise), and deeply involved with a troubled young woman, Faunia Farely (Nicole Kidman).

The title for the film is based on the notion that everyone's life is marked with a 'stain' that can be hidden from view, but in the end is an indelible part of their being. In this story, the stain that Coleman hides is one of race, while for Faunia it is a supposedly-privileged upbringing. It is this shared feeling of anger and shame that draws such a seemingly odd couple together. While friends and enemies of the lovers wonder what they could possibly see in each other, the audience are invited into the bedroom to share their secrets.

The film opens well. Anthony Hopkins is always a joy to watch as an actor. Gary Sinise is also a welcome player. The two men fall into a comfortable friendship, sharing card games, dinners and dance steps. I would have been happy to explore their friendship but this topic is sidelined once Nicole Kidman’s character is introduced into the story.  Once it is clear that Faunia and Coleman will dominate screen time, I was equally ready to sit back and explore this relationship but things went downhill much too quickly and disappointingly from there on.

Coleman declares “This is not my first love, it’s not my great love, but it’s my last love.” What a great line, I could have watched an entire movie written around it. But there is another story to tell. Coleman has been living a lie. Brought up as an African-American during the 1940s, his chance of living the life he had imagined seemed impossible. His ‘white as snow’ skin afforded him the chance to deceive the navy into accepting him as white and he didn’t look back. This is also an interesting story but the problem is that there are too many interesting stories for the 106 minutes of screen time.

Once we learn that Coleman Silk was born a Negro, Anthony Hopkins, who has made a career playing English gentlemen of various stripes, seems a strange choice for the part, as difficult to accept as the fine tattoos that grace Nicole Kidman’s Faunia Farely. It’s not that an actor has to have the same screen persona as the character they are portraying, think of Ben Kingsley in Sexy Beast or Charlize Theron in Monster, but their challenge is to make us believe in the reality of that character. In The Human Stain this does not happen and combined with an overly complicated narrative structure, the film, which initially showed much potential, eventually loses its way.




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