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|Index||173 reviews in total|
...great performances, and a very believable plot.
The movie starts out rather dull until James Coburn enters the setting as Wade Whitehouse's (Nick Nolte) father, an abusive drunk who seems to be degrading his son's relationships and reputation as the town cop. It has been done before, but it was done well and with bleak emotion. I'd imagine that the "sore tooth removing" scene was very symbolic -- the tooth resembled his misfortune, sufferage (and likely his father) and he just wanted to take it out of his life. Coburn did receive a well deserved Academy Award for his performance.
If you want an sappy movie with a happy ending, forget it. If you want an interesting, effective character study with good performances, it's worth a look.
There are a lot of things wrong with this film that shouldn't be wrong.
Such as? Well. The structure doesn't work; some of the major characters
(Jim True and Gordon LaRiviere) are underwritten and don't come to life,
it's occasionally silly or incomprehensible (Wade Whitehouse's frozen
while acting as crossing guard).
Something about it won't leave me alone. Something to do with the story. A lot of maybes spring to mind - the structure's wrong, something's missing, something's in the wrong place, the voiceover is preachy, it's badly paced, it's too much of a message film and the message is obvious anyway; I don't know what it is. But it's like listening to a messy performance of a great piece of music; some of the notes are wrong, but - and even though you've never heard the piece before - you know which ones they are and what they ought to be and you go and find a better performance of the piece and listen to that. You can see the film they could have made and it's better than the one you're watching.
The problems, by the way, are down to Schrader in the writing, direction and editing (unless they're down to Russell Banks' novel, and if they are it was up to Schrader to sort them out). Nolte, Coburn, Spacek, Defoe and Bridid Tierney as Wade's daughter are excellent. The camerawork is fine (except for one of the worst pieces of back projection I've ever seen, which does the film no favours as it's right at the start). The music is also worth a mention (even if much of it does sound suspiciously like an old piece by the Cure called "Carnage Visors").
Overall it's one of those films that irritates the hell out of you as you watch it, but you'll find yourself thinking about it for quite a while afterwards.
Which is why I've just bought the book.
I went to Affliction knowing I'd receive a slow, raw character study,
detailing a man's psychological and moral decline. I knew it would be like
A Simple Plan, which is by the way a better film in all respects, in lack of
shock value and its concentration on how characters changed their relations
between one another after an incident. But Schrader doesn't pull it off
here, no matter how good a job Nick Nolte does. I'm watching Raging Bull
right now for a class, and I realized he can't direct his own screenplays as
well as Scorsese can. Take any scenes between Cathy Moriarty and De Niro in
Bull, vs. Sissy Spacek and Nick Nolte, and you'll realize there's something
missing in Schrader's direction. The cinematography, the atmosphere, the
music all seems dulled somehow, losing its focus. I mean, if Joey had been
able to wax philosophical to us about Jake's decline, would the film's
images have had the same power?
Examples of relationships: Spacey and Nolte's relationship could have been performed much more interestingly- there was no JOY there, only empty, almost forced smiles. Just like it's no surprise for a sinless man to yell out "I'm saved!" it's no great tragedy or drama to watch a joyless couple decline. It seemed like Schrader really didn't know what to do with Spacek, even more so with Jack Hewitt. The relationship between Jack and Wade is kind of at the heart of things, their similar economic positions, their friendship going back a while. Wade lets Jack slip by every now and then for a few favors, etc. Schrader sacrifices this tension in the process of exploring every possible dimension of the life of Wade Whitehouse and then show it ALL declining. This made for a rather hammering, dulling film in which we could almost predict and soon not give a damn about where Wade was headed in his paranoia and frustration.
A Simple Plan gave us four characters and a palpable tension created between them over a bag of money. How did it transform their relationships? Why? Who suffered, who gained? How do we arrive at the deaths at the end, what went wrong? All these questions were central in my mind after seeing A Simple Plan. Similarly, Affliction created a catalyst, the strange death of Twombly, but didn't take it far enough. An IMDB criticism here was just right: Rolfe's character had a SEVERE effect on how Wade interpreted the incident, but Dafoe's narration somehow allowed him to back out.
The narration was excessive: that first shot of Affliction with the car coming in could have resembled Heat's grand opening shot of the subway. Dafoe screwed it up with words, since film must be primarily a medium about the power of visual suggestion. I was disgusted by how far Schrader let it go: ending it on the frame of Nolte drinking and the house burning in the background would have been fine, though horrible. The final ending was real overkill.
Nolte is always interesting to watch, but you don't give a damn eventually because nobody else here really interests you. Jack, Larriviere, Spacek, Rolfe, even his father by Coburn, who should not have gotten the Oscar over Thornton, don't create really interesting situations or tensions with Wade. Even if they are created, they're not sustained. For me, the most interesting relationship has to be between Wade and his ex-wife's family and daughter.
Yes, the daughter was way too whiny and I could see how we could dislike her character, but watching Nolte struggling to be tender and commanding with the girl was my favorite part of the film. His not knowing how the hell to get her to trust him or even like him was all over his face, body language, tone. The way she says, "Don't WORRY, Dad. I love you," and the look of doubt that formed on Nolte's face really captivated me. For me the tightest, best performed scene in the movie was when the ex-wife came to pick the daughter up. Everything gets so screwed up for Wade, when he so wants to be good. "Don't say a word....I didn't hit him, I didn't hit him" was probably the most human, fragile moments in the film (thankfully without any strange, depressing music in the background.)
I don't know what Schrader was trying to do here, but the film seemed to fail for everyone in the audience. Definitely, Dafoe's closing narration rotted a lot of the effect of Wade's burning the barn. Certainly, the parts of Affliction didn't hold together. And even though Nolte is a dynamic actor to watch, if we can't really care about the people he interacts with, what's the point? A film where the supporting ensemble outranks the lead actor is usually a better scenario than one where the lead has no support. That was the case here, due to the faulty structure and direction of Affliction.
I'm just waiting for a Mel Brooks snow movie: he could really have some fun with this genre we've conjured up...
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is by any measure a superior movie, yet it's hard to form any
global judgment on it because there are several ways of looking at it.
The story involves a small-town New England police official, Nick Nolte, who is plagued by personal problems. He's about to engage in a custody battle with the wife who has left him. He's trying as delicately as possible to handle his new romance with Sissy Spacek. His estranged daughter doesn't really like him much. He doesn't get along with his boss, not only the head of law enforcement but a Selectman (whatever that is) who is buying up local real estate in anticipation of building a world-class ski resort. Nolte's younger sibling (Willem Dafoe) is a professor in Boston and has little contact with him. His mother dies. His father, James Coburn, is a wretched and abusive alcoholic, the kind of guy who once had an awkward moment just to see what it felt like. And on top of that, a Boston power broker is killed during a deer hunt, the killing is classified as an accident, only Nolte believes he has reasons to put quotation marks around the word accident. Worse than anything else perhaps is the toothache that fills his day with pain. (I think it's a symbol.) He winds up yanking the offensive bicuspid with a pair of pliers.
All of this tsuris drives Nolte up the wall and he begins to act half crazed -- thumping his little girl away when she knocks him down, destroying half his boss's office before being fired, boozing it up, driving Spacek away, ranting on about how he's going to crack the murder mystery that has been simmering in the background, yanking open kitchen drawers aimlessly then slamming them shut. When his drunken dad hits him over the head with a bottle, he retaliates by whacking the old man across the head with the butt of a rifle, as a consequence of which the old fellow dies on the spot. It seems (it's not really clear) that he shoots and kills the suspect and then takes off for parts unknown. The end.
The acting is close to being splendid. Nolte has never been better and Coburn deserved all the praise he garnered for his performance. Sissy Spacek's role is relatively small and not nearly as flashy as the others' but I think she turns in the best job. Example. In the drab farm house kitchen, Nolte is shouting and slamming things around while Spacek sits at the table. The standard reaction shot would be: Spacek staring in horror at the pyroclastic Nolte, shrinking away from his wrath, her fists curled against her cheeks, protesting, perhaps screaming. But no. She doesn't even look at him. Her chin in cupped in her hand and her big blue eyes stare thoughtfully into empty space. You can practically hear the wheels clicking.
It's the story of a fundamentally decent and entirely ordinary man who is undone by childhood demons, a tragedy of almost Shakespearean dimensions.
That's one way of looking at it. Another way of looking at it is that it is a simple fairy tale about child and spousal abuse by redneck men, and that abused children grow into abusive adults. We are periodically pointed towards this heuristic by the super-literary and overly sanctimonious narration by Nolte's distant and unhelpful brother, the big professor at Boston University. The murder conspiracy, the narration tells us, was all a delusion. The professor ought to know because he's the one who reinforced Nolte's conviction that the conspiracy was real.
And -- if one were to stand back and objectively look at the way Nolte is treated in his social world -- really, some of his anger would be perfectly understandable. Spacek leaves him not because he has abused her in any way but because she seems tired of living with his drunken, lecherous old man, and because she has second sight and anticipates what Nolte is liable to become. Like the absent brother, she doesn't really offer much in the way of understanding or help, though of course she's only human. Nolte's boss comes across as generous but unpleasant, a mean and vengeful anti-smoker. And Nolte's little girl, the one he wants custody of? What an intolerant little snot! He takes her for a drive and offers to buy her a hamburger. She reproaches him for the offer. Fast food is no good for you. Mommy says so. She wants to go home. The benumbed Nolte offers another suggestion: "How about the Pizza House?" Abusive fathers are one thing, but who put all that power in the hands of a ten-year-old kid? Does anyone want to live in a world in which little kids set the rules? Or overprotective mothers or people offended by a whiff of smoke and use it as a justification for demeaning others and demonstrating their own moral purity? Where does all that leave Nolte? It also seems unfair to the child, to burden her with that much responsibility.
If one can get past the cumulative stupidity of that oppressive morality, it's a well-executed picture. I've seen it twice and enjoyed it, but I have to shut down half my left hemisphere to do it.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Very rarely do movies go into depth about the problems that people and families have in life due to poor socialization and poor upbringing. This movie does an excellent job of showing how a man can both function in life and be troubled in life due his past. Nolte plays a sheriff of a small town in New Hampshire (actually, filmed in Quebec, though). He is rugged and probably the strongest man in town. He is a good old boy. Yet, he has an abusive past. His father, James Cobourn, was a mean man who believed that terrorizing and torturing his family was the way a father should be. He learned that from his father. Cobourn's father is an old man now, but still a town pest. He can be likable for a few minutes, but then people discover that he is just a mean man. Nolte plays a seemingly normal man who is starting to unravel throughout the movie. He is troubled, because his wife left him, and in his mind, he feels that his daughter is being unfairly manipulated and estranged by his ex-wife. It is hard to say whether it is imagination or somewhat true. This movie is about perceptions. Because Nolte was raised in an abusive, alcoholic family environment, he can never feel safe and loved. He is paranoid and perceives people being against him, when it is not clearly the case. I liked this movie because it does take a hard look at how hard life can be when there is something wrong in your past. The part I didn't like is how awfully politically correct the movie was. You never completely understood why his daughter was so sensitive and afraid of him. He never really did anything wrong to her. Maybe, it is representative of how things have maybe changed too much. In the old days, stuff happened and was accepted. Nowadays, any sign of any trouble is immediately seen as a threatening situation. Who knows? Maybe that was part of the point of the movie.
Paul Schrader's adaptation of Russell Banks's "Affliction" has got to
be one of the bleakest movies that I've ever seen. Most of the
characters are people whom you can respect, but James Coburn's
character makes you feel like your stomach just turned to water.
Wade Whitehouse (Nick Nolte) is a cop in a small New England town investigating a hunting accident which he believes is a murder. He hopes that it might make him the town hero, but several conditions work against everyone. First and foremost is Wade's alcoholic, abusive father (Coburn). Pretty much anytime that we see his father, the man is still drinking and being as nasty as possible to everyone around him. Wade's brother (Willem Dafoe) is too afraid to speak his mind. Wade's hubby (Sissy Spacek) is simply getting nervous about everything around her. And the ending isn't what you might guess.
The winter setting is just the opposite of how movies usually employ snow. Far from any winter wonderland, the setting backs up Wade's depressed mindset affected by his upbringing. Everything in this movie has the purpose of making you feel like there's a lead weight on every square centimeter of your body, and they succeed. I do think that it's a good movie, but just be forewarned of what kind of movie this is. Even if you sympathize with the characters, you feel like there's a knife in your lungs.
by Russell Banks, this is an atmospheric film which will leave you with
a distinct impression of northern New Hampshire, the cold surreal
surroundings, and this telling story of a man's self-destruction.
The backdrop of snow and stark whiteness, merely adds to Nick Nolte's character, Wade Whitehouse. He finds himself at odds with his life, his ex-wife (very well-done by Mary Beth Hurt) his young daughter, his boss (Holmes Osbourne) and his father (James Coburn).
Sissy Spacek also portrays Wade's sometime girlfriend, a woman who loves him but can no longer watch him destroy his life. His alienation is evident even in small things, dealing with a toothache, he merely drinks salt water, and eventually yanks it out; not caring what pain will ensue; he will just have to drink more.
James Coburn is excellent as Wade's father, a haunted, angry man, Coburn finds his children to be failures (The only one who survives is Willem Defoe, who escapes to Boston to be a professor). When Coburn's wife dies in her sleep, Coburn leaves the body upstairs, letting Wade take care of it; Wade notices there is no heat in the freezing house; the oil burner broke, Coburn explains, as he downs another scotch, ..."why bother fixing it?".
The underlying rage and simmering disappointments of these people contrast with the icy clear environment in which they live. Other than Defoe, the only character who really faces the sad reality is Mary Beth Hurt, and the young daughter, who comes off a bit petulant at times.
We see three generations affected by rage, alienation, violence and alcoholism. While the ending was a bit abrupt, it clearly demonstrates the results of this rage and pain, and the horrific circumstances by which some people endure and play out their lives. 9/10.
Very good performances will stir you, and steer you through the bleak tone
of the movie.
Nick Nolte, Sissy Spacek and James Colburn create believable characters and the script allows the characters to develop--something not all-together common in American movies.
Without giving away the ending, which is no surprise if you are thinking while watching the movie, one wonders if the producers ran out of film. While every little detail is developed throughout the movie, the ending seems tacked on, without development, and complete with a voice-over sermon by Willem DaFoe. The hasty ending lowered a "9 star" rating to a "7star".
Affliction, is a truly remarkable film. From an acting standpoint it is beautiful. Finally we see James Coburn, act. We've seen him dozens of times before, but never before has he been so engaging. Coburn has a powerful screen persona, and is at his best here, as an alcoholic and abusive father. Notle plays against type cast, and plays a small town cop. Only instead of his usual tough guy image, he brings to the screen a sense of fear. He plays a wimp, well maybe not a wimp, but a man who has been beaten by his father and life. When Coburn and Nolte are on the screen together, it is incredible to watch. To see two screen legends at the top of their game. Spacek, and Dafoe are in usual form, as always outstanding. But this movie truly belongs to Coburn and Nolte. Granted this movie is not for everyone, only for true movie lovers. People who love watching actors at their best. This a slow movie, not slow in a bad way, a slow as in poetic, and sad. Do not see this movie if you're looking for fluff. This movie is very heavy and deep, but all in all one of the best films of it's decade.
definitely a film where the masterful perfomances carry the movie over a
slightly cliche plot.
Nick Nolte gives the best performance of career as a middle aged man still suffering the effects of an abusive upbringing by his venomous, alcoholic father (a terrifying performance by the great James Coburn.)
the film wraps this angle around a slightly cliche plotline involving a murder in his small town that shakes him and some of inhabitants up in a bad way. i felt this was the film's weak point and it could've detracted from the film if it weren't for the two powerhouse leads.
everyone else in the cast, with a nod to Willam Defoe as Nick's brother, are excellent and create a genuine sense of family ties that i haven't seen done this well before. (William, Nick and James actually look related to an extent.)
while the plot could've used a bit more polish, this film is worth every penny just to check out the performances.
rating:8 (though the acting gets a 10)
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