The Human Stain Robert Benton

The Human Stain Robert Benton
Coleman Silk (Anthony Hopkins) is a 70-ish classics professor and the dean of a small New England college who is driven from office when he refers to a couple of absent students as "spooks." What seems at first to be a comment on the PC nature of our culture becomes denser still when the narrator, Nathan Zuckerman (Gary Sinise), discovers that Silk is not Jewish but a very light-skinned black man who has managed to successfully pass for white for the better part of four decades. Septuagenarian director Robert Benton does his level best to make Philip Roth's compelling novel come to life but the film falls victim to a fatal lack of suspense and drama. The result is that The Human Stain becomes a movie about Anthony Hopkins and Nicole Kidman kissing. There are so many staggering layers of artifice at work in this film that it is difficult to get them all straight. The casting of the patrician-looking Kidman, playing a cleaning lady, is a particular dozy — when she rages about her white trash life of tragedy and degradation you may find it difficult to suppress the "as ifs." In the same vein, Anthony Hopkins playing a black man playing a Jewish man, even though he looks neither black nor Jewish and doesn't even bother to sound American, is well, ludicrous. Still, there's pleasure to be had in watching the actors make the effort. The best scenes are the flashbacks to the '40s, in which the young Coleman, played superbly by Wentworth Miller, gradually decides to turn his back on everything he is in order to become what he's not. The pain of trying to craft a persona that will allow him to negotiate life in his new world is real and seems more important than Hopkins' Viagra-fuelled romp. Benton is a superb craftsman, "an actor's director" it is pointed out by many of the cast in the "making of" documentary, which is why it is so disappointing to see him give such short shrift to the more political aspects that were highlighted in the novel. But he and screenwriter Nicholas Meyer seem to have carved out a middle ground between a great authorial voice and the language of your average film, which leads to "just okay" watching. Worth watching, however, is a five-minute tribute montage to the film's cinematographer, Jean Escoffier, who died just prior to the film's release. (Alliance Atlantis)