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THE HUMAN STAIN

An African-American classics professor who passes for white is suddenly accused of racism. Instead of revealing his roots, he quits his job and eventually has an intense affair with a trashy but truly hot cleaning lady.

CAST: Anthony Hopkins, Nicole Kidman, Gary Sinise, Ed Harris, Jacinda Barrett, Harry J. Lennix, Anna Deavere Smith, Kerry Washington, Mimi Kuzyk, Charles W. Gray, Nwamiko Madden, Ron Canada, Wentworth Miller, Lydia Zadel, Fred Wells, John Finn

DIRECTOR: Robert Benton

"Silk is played by Anthony Hopkins, and so we are offered the unique spectacle of a Welshman playing a black American playing a white American Jew. Moreover, Silk’s earlier self—much of the film flashes back to his youth, in wartime—is played by Wentworth Miller, a strong young actor who looks (a) tremulously handsome and (b) nothing whatsoever like Anthony Hopkins…just as we are struggling with Hopkins, along comes Nicole Kidman—whose willowy hauteur is the crux of her appeal—as the supposedly rough and bedraggled Faunia Farley, who toils as a cow milker and a college janitor, and who takes Silk into her bed…all we are left with, in essence, is an unlikely love affair, performed by two actors so remorselessly skilled that, by the end, you can’t see the love for the skill." --Anthony Lane, The New Yorker

"… an honorable B+ term paper of a movie: sober, scrupulous and earnestly respectful of its literary source…The filmmakers explicate Mr. Roth's themes with admirable clarity and care and observe his characters with delicate fondness, but they cannot hope to approximate the brilliance and rapacity of his voice, which holds all the novel's disparate elements together…the story fails to cohere. Its people wander through a strangely artificial landscape, and the ideas hover in the air above them like clouds painted on a backdrop…The film includes some sex, a boxing match and an occasional burst of dancing, but most of the action consists of two characters in a room talking…The film's powerful individual scenes seem like excerpts from a missing whole, well-appointed rooms in a house whose beams and girders have been cut away." --A.O. Scott, The New York Times

"Anthony Hopkins is surreally miscast—and demonstrates appropriate contempt with the laziest performance of an increasingly tired (and tiresome) career…Ed Harris—in crazy-making trick eyeglasses—is nearly as awful…Perhaps under the misapprehension that, as the biggest star, she must be playing the central character, Nicole Kidman uses the unhappy Faunia to relentlessly raise the decibel level…Playing the young Coleman with the requisite intelligence and ambiguity, Wentworth Miller contributes the sole viable characterization —so much so that, for those unfamiliar with the book, the flashbacks in which he appears might be set in an alternate universe." --J. Hoberman, The Village Voice

"Benton’s film is ungainly and overstuffed—not to mention miscast. Though the brooding, charismatic Hopkins mesmerizes, he’s not convincingly American or racially ambiguous, and he doesn’t mesh with Wentworth Miller, who plays Silk as a young man. Kidman again demonstrates her versatility and gutsiness, but her beauty is a distraction. I felt I was watching a movie star slumming. Still, for all its shortcomings, ‘The Human Stain’ is an honorable, sometimes moving attempt, better at evoking the poignancy of Silk’s autumnal affair than exploring the moral ambiguities of his deception." --David Ansen, Newsweek

"How does one even begin to list the imperfections of ‘The Human Stain’? One can start with the sluggish direction, the misguided casting, the tedious screenplay and the self-important story. Perhaps the biggest blunder was in casting Nicole Kidman as an illiterate, down-on-her-luck cleaning lady with a tough demeanor. That mistake is followed closely by the decision to put Anthony Hopkins in the lead role of a New Jersey-born professor whose secret identity makes his casting all the more wrong-headed. (Maybe if he had managed to drop his British accent, we could suspend our disbelief.)… the weirdest scene is one in which the unpleasant Faunia [Kidman] shows her soft side: sharing an emotional moment with a caged crow. Somehow she feels a connection to this blank-eyed bird and is moved to tears when speaking to it. Something must have been lost in translation." --Claudia Puig, USA Today

"One problem with ‘The Human Stain’ is that Anthony Hopkins doesn't look anything like Wentworth Miller, who plays him as a young man. We simply have to accept the mismatch as a given, and move on…Hopkins makes our acceptance easier because he is a fine actor, and involves us so directly in the character's life that we forget about the technical details. …Yes, we have to suspend disbelief over the casting, but that's easier since we can believe the stories of these people…Here are complex, troubled, flawed people, brave enough to breathe deeply and take one more risk with their lives. –-Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

"Even this limited treatment of Roth's themes and ideas touches on more live-wire content than we're used to seeing in American movies…aside from reminding us that 1998 was the summer the world fixated on Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, Benton and his screenwriter, Nicholas Meyer, attack Coleman's saga as a conventional chamber drama.
What falls by the wayside is the rush of savage, subtle, often hilarious perceptions that permeate every page of Roth's book…Benton's version of ‘The Human Stain’ feels under-energized and modest to a fault. Yet it still delivers a genuine sad sting." --Michael Sragow, The Baltimore Sun

"Screenwriter Nicholas Meyer and director Robert Benton have managed to make a compelling, sexy and often moving film out of the ‘The Human Stain.’ Paradoxically, they've done this by emphasizing some of the weaker aspects of Roth's book -- in particular, the plot line involving a murderously deranged Vietnam veteran -- and by abandoning both the book's humor and its deep anger at the puritanical hysteria of both left and right. The result is a kind of Douglas Sirk melodrama about racial passing -- a black man living his life as a white man -- combined with a celebration of late or intergenerational passion." --Jonathan Foreman, The New York Post

"Coleman and Faunia are not only insufficiently drawn; they’re miscast. Hopkins doesn’t even bother to drop his British accent while Kidman’s idea of playing working-class is to get all snarly and angular. The film keeps cutting back from the present to the professor’s boyhood past, but Wentworth Miller, who does a credible job as the young Coleman, bears almost no similarity to Hopkins. And so we appear to be watching two disparate stories periodically fused together…’The Human Stain’ isn’t a movie of ideas, and it’s too inert to be a probing character study. No stain is left behind, just a wan watermark." --Peter Rainer, New York Magazine

"Keep an eye on Wentworth Miller (biracial himself) -- he's a sensational new talent. As for Hopkins and Kidman, they are both as mesmerizing as they are miscast. Kidman is too much the babe to pass as the janitor with the ‘inexpressive bone face,’ as Roth describes her. But she makes Faunia's loneliness palpable. And if you can't accept that Welshman Hopkins is an African-American from New Jersey, there's no doubting his ability to locate the character's grit and wounded grace. Why pretend? ‘The Human Stain’ is heavy going. It's the flashes of dramatic lightning that make it a trip worth taking." --Peter Travers, Rolling Stone

"The best thing the movie has going for it is Kidman's performance. What at first seems a bad case of movie-star slumming gradually becomes a credible, powerful portrait of a bitter, damaged woman in a bottomless spiritual crisis…Hopkins is his usual, dominating self, but there's no doubt that his good work is compromised by the unfolding premise-shift; and Nicholas Meyer's adaptation is too respectful of Roth to invent any touches that might make Hopkins' casting a little more credible." --William Arnold, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

"In condensing the lion’s share of Roth’s manifold subplots and multiple antagonists into a cinematic frame of less than two hours, the movie develops a restless, shifty rhythm wherein, too often, only the story’s most incendiary, polemical aspects — the ones where you feel like Roth is chastising you from some post-liberal, Jewish-intellectual Parnassus — come bubbling up to the surface. Yet, there are saving graces. Though ‘The Human Stain’ is, in large part, brazenly miscast, Benton is so good at playing to his actors’ strengths that he nearly makes it all work... Wentworth Miller has a voice like polished oak and pantherlike movements that exude a sleek self-confidence…watching him, neither the camera nor we in the audience can break his distant yet hypnotizing gaze." --Scott Foundas, LA Weekly

"Nicole Kidman as a milkmaid leading a hardscrabble existence?…That's just one leap of faith you'll have to make in ‘The Human Stain,’ a prestige picture whose casting problems gum up the works…There is some linguistic but no physical resemblance between Hopkins and Wentworth Miller, the dashing new face who plays Coleman's younger self in flashbacks. What does the brash, sensual, angry young Coleman possibly have in common with Hopkins' reticent geezer?" --Jami Bernard, The New York Daily News

"‘The Human Stain’ falls victim to a fatal lack of narrative drive, suspense and drama. Kidman and Hopkins are wrong for their roles, and that, combined with a pervading inevitability, cuts the film off from any sustained vitality. The result is something admirable but lifeless…When the patrician-looking Kidman, playing a cleaning lady, rages about her white-trash life of tragedy and degradation, there's no believing her, not for a second…In the same spirit, we watch Anthony Hopkins play an African American passing as Jewish, even though he looks neither black nor Jewish and doesn't even bother to sound American…We experience ‘The Human Stain’ as a movie about Hopkins and Kidman kissing." Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle

"So utterly miscast as to send the movie toppling off into farce and parody, the slim, elegant, beautiful, vulnerable actress plays what marketing execs for cigarette companies once called ‘the virile woman’ -- working-class, tough, uneducated, sinewy, profane, tattooed…She's been beaten up a lot, by a bad man. She's lost her kids in a terrible accident. Now she's a janitor. Nicole Kidman, the janitor…And here's the funny part -- that's only the second most ridiculous casting trick in the film. The corker is Anthony Hopkins, as an academic hotshot at the famous Athena College in a town that should be called Snootleyville, Mass. I can give you his name (Coleman Silk), his rank (dean) and his serial number (1) but as to other matters, specifically origin, ethnicity, inner agenda, moral bearings, history and destiny, I must remain mute. It's a surprise. I can only say: You won't believe it…All in all, it's like a bachelor's apartment: a complete mess." --Stephen Hunter, The Washington Post

"Mr. Benton and Mr. Meyer have been adroit enough in the choices they have made—what to include from the novel and what to exclude and compress—that I feel emboldened to suggest that we are more culturally enriched by the film’s existence than we would have been if the film had never been made at all. In short, the movie is fully worthy of the book, and will reach many people who might not have enjoyed the delightful experience of gliding through Mr. Roth’s trenchant and zestful prose on the human condition." --Andrew Sarris, The New York Observer

"What's shattering is the utterly graceless way the book has been adulterated, condensed, simplified and made rather pointless by an inability to wrestle the material into filmable shape, cast it correctly, or abandon any of the separate pieces of its considerable narrative luggage. Everything in the book seems to be in the movie -- and, at the same time, everything in the movie feels like prelude. While you're waiting for the ideas to reach a point of coalescence, or emotional catharsis, the credits are beginning to roll." --John Anderson, Newsday