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movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Affliction

Starring: Nick Nolte, James Coburn
Director: Paul Scrader
Rated: R
RunTime: 113 Minutes
Release Date: January 1998
Genres: Drama, Suspense

*Also starring: Sissy Spacek, Willem Dafoe, Mary Beth Hurt, Jim True, Marian Seldes, Sean McCann, Wayne Robson, Charles Powell

Review by Walter Frith
2½ stars out of 4

'Affliction' is not as obvious a film as it may seem. Besides showing the inherited traits that are often passed down from father to son, this film also strives to show one man weak enough to actually swallow that theory whole. His feeling of worthlessness, his dysfunctional life, his incompetence on the job, and his ability to eventually alienate everyone in his life he cares about but he manages to hang on to the one person most detrimental to himself before things turn tragic and the course of his life will be changed forever by the film's conclusion.

Nick Nolte as Wade Whitehouse, gives his finest performance to date as a small town police officer in upstate New Hampshire who looks the other way for his so-called friends, has an ex-wife who hates him, a young daughter who finds him weird, and a girlfriend (Sissy Spacek) who tries, unsuccessfully, to change him. He drinks and while indications of the film's description you may have read elsewhere may lead you to believe that alcoholism is the inspiration for the film's title, the real affliction is the monstrous behaviour burdened upon Nolte by his brooding, violent, irresponsible and alcoholic father Glen (James Coburn). Coburn's portrayal is, in many ways, more scary than most manufactured monsters shown in some of the most sinister horror and science fiction films. Uncaring, unloving and a human being with absolutely no redeemable qualities, Coburn is one of the sharpest supporting players seen in film in years and his character is so realistic that it will haunt many long after they leave the theatre.

The film has narration by Wade's brother Rolfe (Willem Dafoe). Dafoe also has a small part as Wade's younger brother who leads a normal life and despises the abyss his father and brother have fallen into. He is a successful school teacher and the remarks aimed at his family are less than endearing.

'Affliction' is based on the novel by Russell Banks, the author of 'The Sweet Hereafter' and the film is written for the screen and directed by Paul Schrader who has worked on such screenplays for the movies as 'Taxi Driver' and 'Raging Bull'. Schrader's screenplays and in this case his direction, looks abstract to the genuine concept of entertainment. I also had a similar criticism of 1998's 'A Simple Plan', which generated a similar feeling as this film does. Just because these films purport to tell a story about the true condition of the human soul and how it can be destroyed can make for fine film focus but they often have limited entertainment value attached to them, especially with such a downer ending, which they often contain.

To expand on the comments made about Nick Nolte and James Coburn, I must say that I never expected them to be as perfect on screen as father and son as they are in the finished product. Coburn has always been an under rated actor and has always managed to please in his employment as a performer. And what can you say about Nick Nolte? A man with only one Oscar nomination to his credit for 1991's 'The Prince of Tides', this film could easily win Nolte an Oscar but it wouldn't be genuine unless Coburn also wins. Although there is only twelve years between them in real life, they truly look like father and son on screen. Nolte should have received additional Oscar nominations in his career for work in 'North Dallas Forty', 'Under Fire' and 'Weeds'.

The last thing that I can say about this film is that Nolte's performance, while totally convincing and heartbreaking is also the stuff that fits the first line of this review in so much that his performance is not obvious. For the first hour or so, his character is rather sedated. But we come to later realize that Wade Whitehouse is a man who has in fact, bottled up his feelings for so long that when the film concludes, we find that sometimes it's better to let your feelings out rather than control them to the point where they build to the point of eruption which is inevitable among human beings.

Copyright 2000 Walter Frith

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