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The Human Stain More at IMDbPro »

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143 out of 180 people found the following review useful:

A Near Perfect Film

Author: Gary Murphy ( from Olathe, KS, USA
20 August 2004

I honestly can not think of a single thing wrong with this movie. The actors are top rate actors that consistently turn in exceptional performances. This movie is no exception.

The plot is intriguing. The pasts of the main protagonists unfold, making their characters exceptionally deep. We get to see these characters evolve in interesting and compelling ways. There are shades-of-grey in these characters. We don't have the perfect hero. We have gentle people with kind hearts who make mistakes.

The direction is perfectly understated. There is a lot of nuance in the way the scenes are filmed and the way in which the actors are framed. Instead of the love scenes being the all-to-familiar humping and groaning, these scenes are filmed without graphic nudity. Note the way in which Anthony Hopkins places his hands on Nicole Kidman's back. It is so loving and tender and intimate.

Even the editing is right on. The length of the film, at 106 minutes, is the perfect length. There are no wasted scenes.

Some of the material is hard to watch. Note the posture and the facial expression on Anthony Hopkins in the kitchen scene in which Nicole Kidman is giving him a hard time. It is subtle and painful to watch.

If you are into light-hearted escapist film, this isn't for you. The subject matter is deep and difficult. I like these kinds of movies and this one is one of the best in class.

Kudos to all involved with this film.

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111 out of 137 people found the following review useful:

This is a terrific film.

Author: Craig Gustafson from Illinois
1 November 2003

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I wasn't going to add a comment here, but I found myself breezing through the other comments, with the constant "poor story structure" crap. Try "complex story structure" or "unusual story structure." They can't ALL be "The Incredible Hulk", folks. As for the complaint that the movie goes on for fifteen minutes after a climactic event: the film ends when the story does. The story isn't ended by the car incident.

I haven't read the book, so I took the film on its own terms. It's a film for intelligent adults with an attention span. The acting is great. Hopkins plays a character who is tragic in the classical sense: a potentially great man with a fatal flaw (and his is a whopper). Kidman is absolutely believable, Anna Deveare Smith is heart-breaking as Silk's mother, Gary Sinise is spot-on and Ed Harris is spooky (ectoplasmically speaking, not as racial vilification.)

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74 out of 84 people found the following review useful:

Vastly understated and underrated

Author: hipcheck from United States
12 September 2005

I'm terrifically surprised at all the middling reviewing of this film, to the point where I feel I have to echo the last few reviews that stand in opposition.

This is a film that just does it right. Unlike so many other dramas with heavyweight casts, this really feels like it's about the story, not the work. Kidman, aside from slipping into her native accent on a handful of words, is fantastic -- perhaps her very best. Harris, like Streep and maybe two or three other actors, brings a real humanity to a role that any other actor would just fill out.

But most of all, everything is in the background and hence subservient to the story. The gorgeous lighting, scenery, dialog -- the whole craft of the film is done the way it's supposed to be done, in the damn background. That all said, I think the real reason this film is slighted is because it's a little too good for the average viewer. It doesn't live up to their idea of what a lit-cum-drama is supposed to feel like. I just have a feeling that in several years this will be revisited and appreciated much more. Now, I'm going to go watch it again!

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93 out of 122 people found the following review useful:

Not without its flaws, but overall a well-done, entertaining film

Author: moviefan08 (
7 December 2003

There is something great in that intense, rugged gaze of Sir Anthony Hopkins. Whether it's the deviously psychotic Hannibal Lecter, or the angrily conflicted Richard Nixon, he assimilates that curvaceous, weathered face into whatever character he inhabits. Sure, Hannibal Lecter could use retirement (who wouldn't forget 2000's dreadful Hannibal), but you gotta give credit where credit is due: Hopkins is an astounding, first-rate actor. He can either scare the hell out of you or move you to tears, and though he does neither in director Robert Benton's adaptation of Philip Roth's The Human Stain, it is still a good movie.

The film begins in the late '90's, right in the heat of the Clinton-Lewinsky debacle. Characters in the film talk about it, but it only serves as the springboard for the scandal that occurs in the film. One day in class, professor Coleman Silk (Hopkins) inquires into the habitual absence of two students. "Do they exist, or are they spooks?" he asks. Anyone with knowledge of racial slurs knows that that 'spook' is not only a synonym of 'ghost' but a pejorative term for african-americans. Well, guess what race the students happened to be? Accused of racism, Silk resigns from the college in a violent fury while clinging even deeper to a secret he's hidden for decades (which won't be revealed in this review, even if evey other critic on earth has done so).

We find Silk several month later as he begins a lasting friendship with writer Nathan Zuckerman (Sinise). As the two learn more and more about each other, Silk tells that he's begun an affair witha woman half his age - the rugged, chain-smoking Faunia Farely (Kidman). The movie dives deeper into the secret of Silk's past while his relationship with Faunia deepens past their initial sexual attraction, and Faunia's psychotic, shell-shocked ex-husband, Lester (Harris), eventually enters the picture. Soon, Silk's past, Faunia's tumultuous back story, and Lester's anger head on a dangerous collision course.

There is a huge amount of plot to tackle in Roth's novel and, to a lesser extent, in the film. Screenwriter Nicolas Meyer (Fatal Attraction) has bravely attempted to cram as much of the book into just under two hours of movie while also steadily developing the two prescient themes: race and class. The scandal at the college and the film's numerous flashbacks into Silk's past provide a fine exploration of the race issue, while Coleman and Faunia are obviously a metaphor for the clash of two very different tiers on the socio-economic ladder. Silk is polished, refined, and with expensive tastes. Faunia works part-time jobs as a janitor, a postal employee, and a farmhand. When Silk takes her to a posh restaurant to meet Zuckerman, she storms out in a jealous rage saying, "You can't f**k me without taking me to expensive restaurants." These broad themes, though, aren't even the whole of the film. Faunia's past is tragic, so much that she feels Silk's resignation pales in comparison to her past, and not until Silk's secret is revealed and it all comes together do their own personal tragedies learn to co-exist. To present past and present on top of all of the other plot strands that make their way into the film and have them make sense is quite a task, but The Human Stain seems to pull it off.

It makes sense of its dense plot, but the film as a whole is not without its flaws. A complete adaptation of Roth's novel would yield a 5-hour long movie, or simply be impossible. The movie clocks in at under two hours, and at times, it handles so much that it becomes somewhat vague (especially with the debacle at Silk's college - it is crucial to the film but it fast-tracks through in under ten minutes). There is a ton of plot to swallow in this movie, and at times it seems that it's watered down a bit too much. I would have liked to have seen more on Faunia's ex-husband, Lester, or writer Nathan Zuckerman, who narrates the film but is only used to his potential in the fim's final stretch. Yes, the movie adequately presents scenes from Silk's past to expose his secret, but some of the supporting characters are left dangling in the present. When the movie attempts to elaborate on Faunia's past, it also unfortunately comes across as borderline silly. This could be due to bad direction or shaky writing, but one of Kidman's scenes that finds her weeping about her dead children comes off as awkward, cold, and overdone. Aside from a few shaky scenes, the vagueness of the film's narrative is really saved by fantastic acting all-around.

Which brings me to my next point. Much has been made about the casting in the film, particularly because of how Silk's secret relates to how his 'younger me' should look. Yes, the actor that plays a 20something Silk really does look nothing like Hopkins, but great acting is often the savior of shaky casting, and it does the job here. The real gamble, though, is Kidman. 'Nicole Kidman' and 'dime-store trash' have never really been synonymous, and she must take on a facet of that term in this film. The fact that she's one of the three or four finest actresses of her generation allows her to pull it off surprisingly well. Faunia's ebullient sexuality does take Kidman into Eyes Wide Shut territory for a few moments, but that frank sexuality that Kidman can alternately harness and let loose manages to stay 'Faunia' and not 'Trashy Nicole Kidman doing Alice Harford.' The chemistry between Hopkins and Sinise is one of the pleasures of the film, so much that seeing them giddily dance around to "Cheek to Cheek" seems 'right' in its own way. Ed Harris is only on-screen for a few minutes, but he manages to shine, especially in a key scene with Sinise at the end. Kidman and Hopkins own a great deal of the film, but in a crucial turn of events, Sinise shows what a fine on-screen presence he's become and he brings the movie to a close that becomes surprisingly tender for a film with such heavy thematic material.

I really admired the fact that the movie did try to present so many parts of Roth's novel, and even though it tripped a few times, the overall effect is more than satisfying. There is a lot to get in, and the movie wastes no time. It doesn't ever really feel like it's rushing though, and that's what makes The Human Stain a true pleasure to watch. It deals with issues in society that carry a huge amount of weight with them but manages to stay 'normal' throughout. Now, this may be a flaw in its presentation, but the fact that the movie is simply a movie adds to its watchability. It doesn't strive for head-scratching artfulness or take bizarre leaps into the subconscious. The Human Stain simply presents a good yarn about what a deep secret from the past can do to the present. The movie isn't great by any means, but it's certainly quite good, and definitely worth the time and the money. It may not transfer Roth's novel with 100% perfection, but it certainly succeeds in the sense of almost never losing its momentum and also carrying dramatic importance. The Human Stain is no Mystic River, and it probably won't be remembered in the future, but by God, it's still a pretty good movie. GRADE: B+

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71 out of 90 people found the following review useful:

A satisfying film -- I wish there were more like it.

Author: Bob Pr. from Lawrence, KS
31 December 2003

This just opened in Lawrence, KS, a university town, at the theater that shows indies and foreign films. Maybe Miramax is hoping for a "Big Fat Greek Wedding" type of reaction?

I've not read the book but, to me, this was a very satisfying film, with some examination of a number of issues: the costs to a black person of crossing over and becoming white -- and/or the price to anyone of becoming disconnected from their families. Although disconnection may give greater freedom in some ways, in others it forms an uncomfortable prison. Another issue might be described as a variant on, "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone." And yet another is that the "stain" that all of us carry also stains others with whom we come in contact. And maybe there's a dear price (and reward?) that may be paid for following heart too much rather than head?

Really solid performances by some great actors -- Hopkins, Kidman, Harris -- and the others.

Some gratuitous nudity was injected, maybe to help ticket sales?, but it was not too far-fetched from the story line.

All the backgrounds fit (I grew up in Vermont and lived in academia many years elsewhere); the landscape and the Volvos plus the professor's house had a very authentic feel.

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57 out of 80 people found the following review useful:

I don't see whats so bad

Author: Iwouldtakethebullet from United States
19 February 2005

There has been a lot of bad press about this movie, and, to a point, I don't understand why. Of course, I think that both Hopkins and Kidman were miscast in their respective roles, but at least Kidman trounced her miscasting and turned in a very strong, artistically nuanced performance.

This movie, to me anyways, seemed to be a bit theatrical. The camera shots are often distant, not allowing us to see the actors close up. The script is very loose, allowing for the actors to take the roles and make them their own. Also, most of the actors give very broad, exaggerated ( but not too much) performances. I consider this to be good. We live in an age when theatre is losing its popularity and the director of this film seems to have found a way to bring theatre into cinema.

There are some slight flaws in the movie. Hopkins speaks with a Weslh accent for no apparent reason. The ending is a tad bit drawn out, not terribly so.

Above all though, I consider this film to be a work of art. It certainly made me think about my own life; it's very powerful.

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44 out of 63 people found the following review useful:

Almost Great

Author: Brent Trafton from Long Beach, CA
16 November 2003

I almost did not see this because of the poor reviews (only 38% on Rotten Tomatoes) but I'm glad I ignored the reviews and saw it any way. While far from perfect, it is still one of the better films of the year.

This is a film that aims high, which makes it's imperfections stand out all that much more. While the critics have documented all that is wrong with this film, it is still a powerful story with great acting and cinematography. For me, more cinematic style would have been what this film needed to take it from being a good film to being a great film.

A strong 8/10 rating.

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33 out of 45 people found the following review useful:

A good film, but . . .

Author: eht5y
13 December 2004

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Possible Spoilers below . . .

You can more or less take it for granted that films adapted from literary novels will be disappointing to those who've already read the book, particularly when the novel in question is more about the intricacies of language and character than about plot or visual imagery. Personally, I tend to be able to enjoy reading a novel for the first time after I've seen the film it was adapted from, and I would hope that this thoughtful but ultimately fragmented film will encourage some viewers to pick up Philip Roth's novel, which is arguably the best of his career and the most succinct, biting critique of the New Puritanism of the 1990s, capturing broad aspects of some of the more troubling and contradictory characteristics of American life and history at the end of the 20th century.

There's much to like about 'The Human Stain': it's filmed subtly and with a strong sense of place, lingering on the frozen, dimly-lit environment of the Berkshires in winter. The screenplay manages to integrate more of Roth's vision than should reasonably have been expected, though the effort to do so makes the story seem rushed and too tightly compressed. Several of the performances are superb, particularly Wentworth Miller as the young Coleman Silk and Ed Harris as the psychotic Vietnam vet Lester Farley. Anna Deavere Smith and Harry Lennix are also excellent as Coleman's parents, making the most out of very little screen-time to convey the conflict between Coleman's ambitions and his sense of self and family.

Anthony Hopkins, as brilliant as he may be, may not have been the best choice for Coleman Silk; his performance in many ways is saved by another actor, Wentworth Miller, whose superb parroting of Hopkins' voice and mannerisms establishes a scant degree of plausibility for Hopkins' adult incarnation of Coleman. Surely there were better options--Dustin Hoffman, Richard Dreyfuss, James Caan--actors who would at least be believable as Jewish if not as light-skinned African-American. Hopkins fares well enough--he masterfully carries one of the book's best scenes, when Coleman dances with Zuckerman--but Hopkins never really convinces us that he could be Coleman.

Gary Sinise is adequate as Zuckerman, and manages to convey the character's withdrawn, contemplative nature well. The film chooses to recast Zuckerman as middle-aged (in the novel, Zuckerman is roughly the same age as Silk), presumably to afford for a sub-plot in which Silk's friendship with Zuckerman draws the younger man out of isolation and melancholy--a bit of an unnecessary Hollywood touch, and inappropriate to the context.

The real flop here is Nicole Kidman as Faunia Farley. Any number of contemporary actresses could have made much more of this superb role--Cate Blanchett leaps to mind; other better choices include Emily Watson and Laura Linney. Kidman can be fabulous when properly cast, but her reading of Faunia is tone-deaf, unbelievable, and unsympathetic. It's not that she's too pretty or too refined--Faunia is meant to be sexually alluring, and Kidman's fine features aren't inappropriate to the character, who ran away as a girl from a wealthy family. But here her gestures and dialogue are caricaturish to the point of parody. You never sense the spark between Faunia and Coleman that is so essential to the novel.

Otherwise, the problems mostly reside in the effort to compress too much information into a 100-minute film. Director Robert Benton is intent on showing us as much of Coleman's intricate backstory as possible, but the effect of this reduces our ability to understand his various dilemmas. We don't see his painful process towards deciding to pass himself off as white; a crucial subplot in which Coleman's nemesis at the university harasses him for his affair with Faunia is introduced but then abandoned; little to none of the rich detail that must have fueled Ed Harris' rendering of Farley makes it from page to screen, begging me to wonder why Benton didn't give us another ten- or twenty minutes worth of movie to even out the tone and fill in some of the grey spaces.

This movie is a good sketch of a brilliant book. Taken together, they're a rich experience. But if you're only going to have one or the other, read the book.

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24 out of 32 people found the following review useful:


Author: Casablanca3784 from 15th Row Orchestra
8 December 2003

'The Human Stain." What an odd name for a film until I found out its derivation. It simply means we leave a mark on everyone whom we encounter in our lifetime. This picture is going to make a BIG mark on you! It's a brilliant screen adaptation of Philip Roth's novel about... If you want to know about the story, please read it somewhere else because my intention behind writing this is to laud the unbelievable acting of Anthony Hopkins and Nicole Kidman. Hopkins's outstanding performances are a "given" however even with all the accolades awarded Kidman last year, I was unconvinced. I am a now a believer. Not only is she a gorgeous creation but skilled beyond imagination and if she's not nominated for Best Actress for this movie, I'll be super surprised. From scene one to the last, a viewer is transfixed by one of the most unusual stories to ever hit the silver screen. The picture is a masterpiece and NOT to be missed.

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25 out of 34 people found the following review useful:

A Real Stretch, But Thought-Provoking

Author: ccthemovieman-1 from United States
16 March 2006

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Although I enjoyed this film and rate it pretty high, I have to admit this was more than a bit of a stretch for most people, and for at least four good reasons:

1 - Anthony Hopkins being a light-skinned black man; 2 - Nicole Kidman being a white trailer trash person (no person that poor looks that good!); 3 - A beautiful woman like Kidman falling for a much-older man like Hopkins unless it was for money, which he does not have in here, and 4 - Ed Harris' character would have been locked up and unable to affect things in the end, as shown here.

If you can go along somehow with all of those credibility issues, you have an interesting film on your hands to watch. (A lot of good movies - classic to modern--day - ask you to suspend belief, so this is nothing new in films.)

Once again, I enjoyed the acting of Hopkins, one of the best of his generation. Just the looks on his face alone are fascinating in this film. Kidman is interesting, too, with my only complaint being her overuse of the f-word. Ninety percent of them in this movie come from her. Gary Sinise is the nice-guy friend who narrates the film.

This is a deep human-interest story of a black man who winds up - in an earlier era - posing as a white man so he can have a better chance at a successful career. In the process, he sacrifices his roots, his family and siblings, which comes back to haunt him. He's also a victim, ironically, of political correctness on the subject of race. Wow, it's unusual - and refreshing - to see how PC can run amok and hurt well-meaning people, as demonstrated in this story.

Going into further details might spoil the rest of it, so I'll end here. This is a film I found surprisingly engrossing and if you can withstand the f-word, one I recommend.

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