Robert Benton’s (of Kramer vs. Kramer fame) latest film follows the life of university professor Coleman Silk (played by Anthony Hopkins) in this diluted drama, which leaves much to be desired. Set against the backdrop of 1998 (which the film won’t let us forget by inserting constant Lewinski references), Coleman is falsely accused of racism and is subsequently fired.
We then receive some back-story to this character before returning to present day where he develops a relationship with an unstable janitor played by Nicole Kidman. The first 30 minutes of this film almost plays like clip show of several films, as only weak bridges are formed between the scenes.
This fragmented beginning is most likely due the difficulty often encountered when adapting a novel for the screen (the novel was a bestseller written by Phillip Roth).
Not only does the beginning lack the necessary transitions, but it also seems to be missing dialogue. It feels as though much of the dialogue was drastically cut down, making the scenes seem incomplete and unrealistic.
However, it is understandable why Benton wanted to keep the pace up in this first part, as the film only starts to gain real intrigue when we learn of Coleman’s lifelong haunting secret. Coleman’s struggles as a youth are far more interesting than those of his later years, which are supposed to be the main focus of the film.
The characters in The Human Stain are all damaged and hiding in some way or another. Ed Harris brings to life the poorly written character of Les, the psychotic Vietnam veteran, ex-husband of Kidman’s character. Unfortunately, Kidman fails to pull off the same magic as Harris in a role that perhaps would have been more suitable for a lesser-known actress. Gary Sinise plays a writer who befriends Coleman when no one else will.
Although Sinise plays the role with his normal sincerity, his character is a disposable one whose only purpose is to satisfy the audience’s need for a character that eventually becomes aware of the entire story. And of course, Sir Anthony Hopkins is very strong in the lead role.
One gets the sense that this film didn’t quite turn out as planned. As Gary Sinise said, “It’s a story about racial issues, sexual issues, moral issues, aging issues.” These are too many issues for one film to handle, and not one gets the time it deserves. Attempting to tackle this wide array of topics causes the movie to loose focus and lends it the feeling of an unkept aattic.
However, one sentiment that is illustrated quite well in the film is how ludicrous political correctness has become. Coleman describes the term itself as an “oxymoron.” Only in today’s society of boundless “political correctness” can someone be accused of racism against an individual whose race they were never even aware of.
At times, The Human Stain can be quite compelling; unfortunately for the most part it’s non-involving.