← Back to Reviews

The Human Stain

Got to see an advanced screening of The Human Stain earlier this week, with the director in attendance even!

The Human Stain is a good flick, with a few performances that are surely Oscar-nomination bound. Adapted from Phillip Roth's novel, Anthony Hopkins stars as a classics professor at a prestigious New England university. His life changes after an offhand remark is misinterpreted and blown out of proportion by rampant political correctness. Set in the America of the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal, the movie has some things to say about such things ("People are getting dumber, but more opinionated"), but while that's how the movie starts and is a subtext throughout, it's not what The Human Stain is really about. This is a character piece about secrets, regret and atoning for one's personal sins.

Hopkins is fantastic, in one of his controlled, subtle performances full of nuance and depth rather than the over-the-top camp and menace assaciated with his Lecter-type roles. Nicole Kidman does a fine job in a difficult role as an unlikely lover with scars of her own. She may be a little too damn pretty for the role as written, but emotionally she pulls it off. Gary Sinise plays a friend of the Hopkins character who is also the narrator of the story, and it's the best role and best work Sinise has had in years. Ed Harris rounds out the main cast, and he's really quite magnificent in a quiet way. His role could have very easily been dismissed by a lesser actor, a perfunctory plot neccessity as Kidman's biter ex-husband, but he adds such depth and life to it, and with very little screentime. Stellar stuff, in particular his last two secenes.

Director Robert Benton (Kramer vs. Kramer, Nobody's Fool) does a superb job of letting the actors do their thing without getting in the way with an obtrusive style. There is a secret the Hopkins character has carried with him most of his life, and the way it is revealed in the narrative and on the face of Sir Anthony is very well done, perfectly bridged by the terrific work of young actor Wentworth Miller, who plays the character as a young man in flashbacks that are intertwined with the current-day action.

Not the kind of movie that is going to be a hit with the kiddies, but a very good adult drama with well-developed characters inhabited by excellent actors. I'd love to discuss it in more detail, but that would require major plot spoilers, and as few will even have the opportunity to see it until next month, I'll wait, as the intricacies should really be discovered by each viewer.

Also some very nice cinematography, especially the still winter stuff, shot by Jean-Yves Escoffier (Rounders, Nurse Betty, Good Will Hunting), who sadly died of a heart attack shortly after filming was completed.

The screening was at the AFI Silver Theatre outside of D.C., and Benton was there to introduce the movie and conduct a Q&A afterward. A very nice, gentle, soft spoken man, as his filmography sort of suggests. It was a great night, despite the rain.

The Human Stain is definitely a movie to look out for. It opens in limited release in the States October 3rd, and widens the rest of the month. It will surely be in the running for many an award, especially on the acting side.