A review of “The Human Stain” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ***

Rating: R for nudity and language

Run Time: 1 hour, 46 minutes

 

 

Philip Roth’s enigmatic novel of the same name gets a dramatic big screen treatment that resonates with pain and pathos.

Coleman Silk (Anthony Hopkins) is a respected professor of classics at a prestigious New England liberal arts college whose professional integrity and career is shattered by unwarranted allegations of racism.  His private life is in shambles as well, tainted by the untimely death of his wife and the stain of a lie he’s been living for over fifty years. 

With his life in ruins, Silk travels a long road to personal recovery courtesy of two influential friendships -- one with a reclusive novelist (Gary Sinise as Nathan Zuckerman), and the second a more scandalous affair with a working-class woman struggling with her own emotional demons (Nicole Kidman as Faunia Farely).

Silk ignores the judgmental scrutiny of his lowbrow romance and perseveres with what he considers to be his last love. Faunia weathers the emotional storm precariously, hemmed in by white-trash ethics and a bitter ex-husband (Ed Harris) who won’t leave things be.

“Stain” is the kind of adult drama that brings Oscar calling.  The conceit of mismatched lovers trying to re-align their fates is pregnant with pride and humiliation. Hopkins gives a bravura performance as a fallen academic star who’s running out of time, not to mention running from his past.  Kidman is extremely unlikable – tense, brittle, and trying altogether too hard to project sorrow.

 

A memorable (and beautifully photographed) cheek-to-cheek dance lesson delivered by Sinise and Hopkins is a beautifully choreographed show-stopper. Startling revelations pepper the narrative, heightening interest when the essential foundation of love vs. sex goes impertinently ambiguous.  The elusively grim secrets of star-crossed lovers are at the core of this persuasive drama, casting a spell over all.