The Human Stain

Review Date:
Director: Robert Benton
Writer: Nicholas Meyer
Producers: Tom Rosenberg
Anthony Hopkins as Coleman, Nicole Kidman as Faunia, Gary Sinise as Nathan
An esteemed college professor is fired after making a politically incorrect racial statement in his classroom. After losing his wife soon thereafter, the teacher meets a young woman with a sorted past, a reclusive writer (aren’t they all?) and an ex-husband who wants to kill him for boinking his better half (can ya blame the guy?) Oh, but the story’s really about how the prof is actually a white-skinned African-American and how he had to deal with that throughout his life. Deep issues. Kidman nekkid ensues.
I’m not exactly sure what I was supposed to “get out of” this movie but whatever it was…I didn’t get it. If it was supposed to enlighten, I must’ve missed that part. If it was supposed to delight with an affair of the heart, I felt nothing of the sort. If it was supposed to entertain, to thrill or dramatically engage…once more, no dice. The film felt clumsy in every which way possible with flashbacks intercutting modern-day scenes grinding things down to a halt, a chemistry-less romance between an aging man and a white trash woman generating more laughs than interest, underdeveloped characters (Ed Harris is in a whole three scenes) and an ending that is about as anti-climactic and unfulfilling as anything I’ve seen in a long time. Why? Well, I don’t know about you but when I watch a movie centered around two lead characters, I expect to follow those two characters’ path all the way through to the end. I don’t expect some goofy narrator to step in and explain the remainder of the film to me. Thumbs way down on that. But it wasn’t only the film’s ending that didn’t work, it was much of what came before it as well. The characters all seemed to have motivations for their actions, but oddly enough, decided not to share any of them with us. It’s all subtext. The one time we actually do get some insight into Kidman’s character is when she speaks to a crow all by herself. A crow, folks. I shit you not. Hopkins also doesn’t work as an African-American and neither did actor Wentworth Miller, playing Hopkins in the flashbacks (and looking nothing like him, I might add). And call me ignorant but why wasn’t his extreme whiteness explained at all? Am I to assume that a child of two black parents (and black siblings) can come out as white as my sock? I don’t get it. The man had absolutely no black features either. Was he the product of an affair?
This was never fully explained and left me feeling unfulfilled about his character. I also didn’t believe that he was in love with this woman or empathize with him whatsoever (the man was basically a jerk) I didn’t care much for Kidman either. So what was I left with? Well, not much really. If the film was an attack on racism, I can give you a list of about 100 other movies that have done it much better. If it was a play on an aging man romancing a younger woman, I can give you a list of another 100 movies that have done that better. If it was an exercise in acting, it did “okay”, but even then, Kidman was still too pretty for her role and seemed to be “playing white trash” a little too hard at times. Sinise was also about as engaging as his stilted hair. The film just didn’t put any of its pieces together correctly. Certain scenes felt gratuitous, breakdowns felt phony, characters seemed “off” (what was up with that lawyer?), the ending was embarrassingly bad and ultimately, not much clicked. Even the most basic things weren’t explained very well. Early on in the film, we are told that the lead character is Jewish. We then find out that he’s not, but then shown evidence that he likely is. It’s not a focal point of the film (although it does deal with identity, so I guess it is part of the greater puzzle), but just another example of how even the smallest matters are never fully clarified. And what was with all the lame Monica Lewinsky references? Okay, we get it…the whole PC thing. Yawn…we got it the first ten times. Ironically, the film’s crappy title reminded me of the same word that I was thinking of as I walked out of the theater: shit.
(c) 2021 Berge Garabedian

The Human Stain



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