Sunday, November 09, 2003

The Human Stain (IMDB) (Netflix)

Escaping who you are and what you’ve done is a futile exercise. Anthony Hopkins leads a cast of troubled individuals (Nicole Kidman, Ed Harris, Gary Sinise), each uniquely damaged. Hopkins’s back story problem is the focal point, as a victim of political correctness run amok, the irony becoming more pointed the more we learn about him and his past. Based on the novel by Philip Roth.

Which is the problem. For those familiar with the plot’s slowly revealed conceit, it’s clearly one that works better in print, where a reader’s imagination can carry the load, but the literal nature of film makes this a tough sell, despite stellar performances by Kidman (maybe not everyone’s favorite personality, but she’s got chops), Harris, and the kid playing the Hopkins character as a youth. The film’s literary lineage also mars the coda, with the screenwriter seemingly (I haven’t read the book) cowed by Roth’s influence into going unnecessarily expository. A highly intelligent and mature work for those who can tolerate a shaky premise.