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A New England classics professor, Coleman Silk (Anthony Hopkins), harbours a secret kept hidden for over fifty years from his wife, his children and newly found close friend, writer Nathan Zuckerman (Gary Sinise). After he's forced to resign from his College on an unjust charge of racist remarks, Silk's life is dramatically changed. He soon begins an affair with a young, troubled janitor, Faunia (Nicole Kidman), who promises to invigorate it, despite the threat of her dangerous, estranged husband Lester (Ed Harris). When the collision of these lives ends in tragedy, Zuckerman sets out to reconstruct the unknown biography of this eminent, upright man, esteemed as an educator for nearly all his life, and to understand how this ingeniously contrived life came unravelled.

Review by Louise Keller:
This intriguing adaptation of a story about secrets and racism misses its mark due to problematic casting and a script that confuses by its structure. The collaboration of Academy Award winning director Robert Benton (Kramer vs Kramer) and screenwriter Nicholas Meyer (The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, Sommersby) fails to ignite the kind of rewards anticipated, despite splendid performances from Anthony Hopkins and Nicole Kidman. Visually and on a sensual level, however, there are many rewards, with Jean-Yves Escoffier's beautiful cinematography and Rachel Portman's emotionally dense score. (The film is dedicated to Escoffier, who died in April 2003.)

At first appearances, Hopkins' melancholy college professor and Kidman's tragic Faunia have little in common, but by the end of the film, not only have they shared their secrets with each other, but we recognise that they are both lost characters, whose emotions have been buried and discarded. Their relationship is not based on passion, but represents different things to each of them. To Professor Silk, here is an intimacy that triggers memories from his past, whereas for the girl who never stays the night, she is looking for stability and a refined calmness that she has not encountered before. Their meetings are liaisons: how could we forget the scene when the haunting refrains of 'Cry Me A River' plays as Faunia dances her bewitchingly seductive naked dance.

But it's the miscasting of Wentworth Miller in his debut feature role as the young Coleman Silk, that casts aspersions on the credibility of the story. Not only is he physically so different from Hopkins, but his American accent bears absolutely no resemblance to Hopkins' distinctive English accent, so as the story jumps back and forth between the late 90s to the 40s, it takes a great leap of faith to embrace both actors as the same character. We are sympathetic to Miller's conflicted young man who turns his back on his past, and in some ways it is easier to get involved in the younger man's story which comes to a startling climax as he takes his girl home to meet his Mom.

Each of the characters has a problem, and we connect with all of them. Gary Sinise is solid as the empathetic writer who learns to laugh again, and Ed Harris is frighteningly credible as the deranged, violent man from Faunia's past. The Human Stain is a thought provoking film, throughout which we are constantly aware that secrets are consistently being revealed to the wrong person.

There are two special features on the DVD - a behind the scenes special and a special tribute to cinematographer Jean Yves Escoffier with scenes from some of his films including Good Will Hunting.

Published August 26, 2004

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CAST: Anthony Hopkins, Nicole Kidman, Ed Harris, Gary Sinise, Ron Canada, Anne Dudeck, John Finn, Jacinda Barrett

DIRECTOR: Robert Benton

SCRIPT: Nicholas Meyer (novel by Philip Roth)

RUNNING TIME: 106 minutes


SPECIAL FEATURES: Behind the scenes special; Jean Yves Escoffier tribute


DVD RELEASE: August 25, 2004

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