Robert Benton's THE HUMAN STAIN, based on the Philip Roth novel, is a complex
story about Coleman Silk (Anthony Hopkins), a renowned classics professor at a
New England college. Near retirement age, he is fired for what is falsely
misconstrued as a racist remark, calling some students who have never shown up
for his class, "spooks." When they turn out to be black and complain, he is
summarily shown the door. This bit of political correctness run amok literally
kills his wife, who promptly has a heart attack upon hearing her husband was
forced out for such a flimsy reason.
The story takes place mainly after this incident, as the bored and retired
Coleman strikes up a friendship with a local writer, Nathan Zuckerman (Gary
Sinise). The scene with Hopkins and Sinise dancing together to the big band
sounds of "Dancing Cheek to Cheek" is one that won't soon be forgotten.
Thanks to the miracles of Viagra, which gets a great product plug, Coleman
starts seeing Faunia Farely (Nicole Kidman), a crazy woman who likes sex and
hates conversation. Although she grew up wealthy, she now lives a menial,
working class life with three jobs (postal employee, farm laborer and nighttime
janitor) with no money to show for her hard work. Nervous and smoking
incessantly, she has guilt written all over her face and a big secret to hide.
In one of his weakest performances, the normally sublime Ed Harris plays
Lester, Faunia's equally crazy and downright dangerous ex-husband.
When Faunia first asks Coleman to come to her room, he says no, then changes
his mind. Imagine saying no to the possibilities of sex with Kidman. I know.
It's hard to fathom. In her most memorable line, a dancing Faunia tells
Coleman, "I will do whatever you ask of me, as often as you want." She goes on
to say perceptively, "How many times have you heard a woman say that and mean
it?" No kidding.
The best part of the movie happens in flashback when we meet the young Coleman
Silk (Wentworth Miller), a man about to choose a college. This younger Coleman
is the movie's only completely satisfying and fully fleshed out character.
Miller, who really gave the part his all, was at our screening. He said that,
as research for his role, he rented as many of Hopkins's old movies as he could
find so that he could pick up little bits of Hopkins here and there to use in
his performance. There are some problems with the movie but none with Miller's
work, which is superb. The biggest problem with the picture is that too many
critics have decided to reveal the story's mysteries. But even if someone
tells you or you figure them out, the movie is still a rewarding one.
THE HUMAN STAIN runs 1:46. The film is rated R for "language and
sexuality/nudity" and would be acceptable for teenagers.
The film opens nationwide in the United States on Friday, Oc
Copyright © 2003 Steve Rhodes