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AFFLICTION

SYNOPSIS:
Wade Whitehouse (Nick Nolte) is a man near the end of his rope. All his life he’s lived in the small, struggling town of Lawford in New Hampshire, where he’s employed as a police officer, though he rarely does more than direct traffic. His marriage to Lilian (Mary Beth Hurt) has fallen apart, and his young daughter Jill (Brigid Tierney) is slipping away from him. He drinks and smokes too much and broods on his past, remembering the childhood abuse he suffered at the hands of his drunken father, Pop Whitehouse (James Coburn). When Evan Twombley (Sean McCann), a union boss in a nearby city, is killed in an apparent hunting accident, Wade comes to believe Twombley was murdered, the victim of a conspiracy. At the same time, Wade makes plans to sue Lilian for custody of Jill, and goes to visit his own parents at their farmhouse, where he finds that his mother has just died. As Wade’s brother Rolfe (Willem Dafoe) and other relatives arrive for the funeral, Wade persuades his waitress girlfriend, Margie (Sissy Spacek) to move to the farm and take care of Pop. Wade is suffering from a terrible toothache, and everything seems to be going wrong both in his work and his personal life – but some day, as he mutters, he just might bite back...

"I’ve never read any of Russell Banks’ writing, but Affliction and Atom Egoyan’s The Sweet Hereafter, both adapted from his novels, have a family resemblance. They’re introverted films set in bleak, un-cosy small towns, failed communities where things quietly fall apart. In summary, their solemnly presented themes run perilously close to pop psychology cliches – all this stuff about men who can’t express their emotions and generational ‘cycles of abuse’ is standard on daytime TV. Yet things are less straightforward than they seem: the films also share a restrained style and an indirect, even sly approach to narrative. There’s more than one tale being told. Willem Dafoe’s distanced, flatly spoken narration identifies Affliction as both a ‘murder mystery’ and a ‘family melodrama.’ And then, what’s his story? It’s clear, though, that the film’s heart is with its doomed, violent hero, embodied with massive force by Nick Nolte. Bulked up in layers of winter clothing, he’s a shambling, bearlike figure – more than one line of dialogue compares him to an beast that can’t quite be tamed. Yet Wade is never merely hateful or a victim: he has a horrified self-awareness, and he fights as he goes down. There’s something both impressive and tedious about watching this doomed hulk of a man suffering, like many Paul Schrader characters before him, ‘up on a cross.’ This is a very powerful film with a lot of integrity, yet at times the script feels a bit thin: unlike Wade, who's a complex, rounded character, Pop Whitehouse too often comes across as a Hollywood monster (though James Coburn is memorable). At least, despite Schrader’s religious grandiosity, Affliction (unlike so many Hollywood films) isn’t a story of redemption. Dafoe has the last word on this, in a scene where he’s hassled by his ‘Jesus-freak’ sister-in-law. ‘That’s right,’ he grins, his skin stretched tight, like a mask, across his blank bony face. ‘Me, Wade, Dad, Mom...we’re all going to hell.’"
Jake Wilson

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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 0
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 1

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SOFCOM MOVIE TIMES

AFFLICTION (MA)
(US)

CAST: Nick Nolte, Sissy Spacek, James Coburn, Willem Dafoe, Mary Beth Hurt, Jim True, Marian Seldes, Homes Osborne, Brigid Tierney, Sean McCann, Wayne Robson

DIRECTOR: Paul Schrader

PRODUCER: Linda Reisman

SCRIPT: Paul Schrader (based on the novel by Russell Banks)

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Paul Sarossy

EDITOR: Jay Rabinowitz

MUSIC: Michael Brook

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Anne Pritchard

RUNNING TIME: 113 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: September 30, 1999 (Melbourne only)







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