Published Jan 01, 2006The Human Stain adapts Phillip Roth's outstanding novel of the same title about ageing professor Coleman Silk (Anthony Hopkins), whose lifelong secret is slowly revealed after he is fired from his teaching post at a small New England college after a bogus racism charge is levelled at him and he enters into a relationship with Faunia, a cleaning woman in her 30s (Nicole Kidman).
Primarily set in 1998 at the height of the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal, the film examines prejudice, political correctness and the role of individualism in the American identity. It is a complex and fascinating tale, and an ambitious choice to adapt for the screen. Director Robert Benton (Kramer vs. Kramer) and writer Nicholas Meyer do quite a good job of culling most of the essential story from the sprawling novel, although they do choose leave traces of a few of the book's minor storylines without giving them a proper context, thus giving an audience unfamiliar with Roth's text a sense that something's missing.
The performances from the star-studded cast are all outstanding. Anthony Hopkins imbues Silk with the dignity and resolve the character requires, while having moments of sheer exuberance about his sexual reawakening. Nicole Kidman is transformed in the role of Faunia, tough and as unglamorous as they come. Newcomer Wentworth Miller almost steals the show as the young Coleman, and the amazing Anna Deavere Smith is quietly chilling as his mother. Gary Sinise plays the hermetic writer Nathan Zuckerman, from whose perspective the story is told, and the scene in which he and Silk have a spontaneous dance party is the standout of the film. (Miramax)