The Human Stain is a never-ending trip into the depths of character development, and the end result is a bit of a mixed bag. The comes as a bit of a surprise considering the wealth of talent involved.
The film opens with a tragic car accident, then introduces us to Coleman Silk (Hopkins). He is a well-respected Classics professor who has virtually turned his university around, but a slip of the tongue and a massive misunderstand has placed him in the ranks of unemployment.
Shortly thereafter, Coleman meets Faunia (Kidman), a janitor who has a troubled past with her ex-husband, Lester (Harris). The two begin a love affair, but things get more complicated for each of them personally as they delve deeper in the relationship.
Coleman quickly confides in Nathan Zuckerman (Sinise), a writer who sets out to reconstruct his complicated life.
Key events in Coleman’s life are showed in flashback. I will not reveal his gigantic secret (which seems biologically implausible to me, but I’m not a doctor), but it is a key theme to the film.
The film is based on the novel of the same name by Philip Roth, and the intense character development in better suited to the printed page. What makes The Human Stain click on many levels, however, is the incredible acting all around by the all-star cast.
Sir Anthony Hopkins is almost always dependable, and he turns in a very interesting performance here. His fits of rage come as a surprise as he comes across as a very unaffected individual. Nicole Kidman seems mildly miscast at times (mainly due to her past roles, I’m sure). She pulls off the role in the end. Harris is both chilling and underused as Lester, Faunia’s abusive ex-husband. It is his role that will leave the lasting impression on me when this film possible comes up at Oscar nomination time. Sinise is also worthy of mention as the curious Zuckerman, never bored with Coleman’s life stories.
Where the film faults is in trying to convey a massive amount of information in 106 minutes. Not having read the novel, I would venture a guess that all of the key elements are here. The downside is that it is hard to swallow all of the character development. While I applaud the filmmakers for seemingly staying sincere to the novel, first-time viewers will more-than-likely be dumbfounded by all the development and flashbacks.
For those looking for some heavier drama and solid acting, The Human Stain is well worth the look. It was only given a limited release in the United States, and disappeared rather quickly from theaters. The acting here is phenomenal (especially Harris), and the film will be a nice challenge for those in search of one. After reading this review, you probably have a good idea if this movie is for you.
Studio: Miramax Films
Length: 106 Minutes
Rating: R for language and sexuality/nudity.
Theatrical Release: October 31, 2003 (Limited)
Directed by: Robert Benton
Written by: Nicholas Meyer. Based upon the novel by Philip Roth.
Cast: Anthony Hopkins, Nicole Kidman, Ed Harris, Gary Sinise, Wentworth Miller, Jacinda Barrett