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A disturbing examination of the fruits of abusive parenting.
lewwarden12 October 2005
Warning: Spoilers
I have watched this movie several times and reflected on the negative criticisms of others on this message board. And while I agree that some of the performances were flawed and that an evening spent watching it can hardly be called entertainment, still, in terms of its writer's objectives, which are summed up in Rolf's concluding VO (which I quote below), in my opinion Affliction it is a superb accomplishment.

I write thusly because I as a child -- as I must suppose the writer was also -- was beaten often and most violently by a totally out-of-control father who himself was the product of his father's violence. Which is not to say that I did not afford ample provocations for sound thrashings (or possibly a more effective form of chastisement, for, as the proverbial fool, I indeed kept returning to my follies), still there are limits. Nevertheless, I have thought often of the effect these beatings must have had in shaping my personality and destiny -- and being now some 85 years of age, I have had a very long post, post graduate course in introspection.

Whatever, the writer's conclusions did indeed resonate with me, and well written they were indeed:


The historical facts are known by everyone -- all of Lawford, all of New Hampshire, some of Massachusetts.

Facts do not make history. Our stories, Wade's and mine, describe the lives of boys and men for thousands of years, boys who were beaten by their fathers, whose capacity for love and trust was crippled almost at birth and whose best hope, if any, for connection with other human beings lay in an elegiac detachment, as if life were over.

It's how we keep from destroying in turn our own children and terrorizing the women who have the misfortune to love us; how we absent ourselves from the tradition of male violence; how we decline the seduction of revenge.
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a masterpiece, true art
pf96 February 1999
This is a movie which rewards at many levels. Its characters are fleshed out human beings capable of good and evil and in the grips of intense suffering, not the formulaic cardboard creations which populate so many recent Hollywood productions. The movie's atmosphere and mood are thick and the bleakness of the New Hampshire winter comes alongside its beauty and majesty. Paul Schrader achieves here what has eluded the Coen brothers in Fargo. The photography of Paul Sarossy is of a rare beauty and his compositions are breathtaking. Think of the scene of the two brothers in the barn lit by light sneaking in through the slits in the wood exterior, the beauty of the snow covered New Hampshire chalets, the camera receding from the barn fire until we get to watch it through a slightly off-center picture-window from the main house, and finally think of the snow in its serenity, its menace, its domination. The two stories are so naturally intertwined that one can spend most of the time convinced one is watching a thriller, until in the end this thriller dissolves into the main story which explores the violent undercurrents of human love and bonding. This whole is as thick and rich as cream.

I am in awe of Nick Nolte's spectacular performance. It is honest, complex and totally convincing. Nolte is ably supported by James Coburn and others. This is moviemaking at its best.
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One of the year's best films; brilliantly acted and directed. **** (out of four)
Movie-1227 December 2000
AFFLICTION / (1997) **** (out of four)

By Blake French:

Dysfunctional families have always been the subject of motion pictures. Recently, with movies like "American Beauty" and "The Story of Us," Hollywood has portrayed American households as candidates to be on the next TV tabloid talk show. Paul Schrader's dramatic portrayal of a troubled family in "Affliction" is as intense as any suspense thriller released within the past few years. The thought-provoking power of his script, based on the novel by Russell Banks, and the methods he uses to execute the vivid, interpretative character study creates more than just a sense of emotion and empathy, but places the audience in the character's shoes, allowing us to explore a tense atmosphere on our own.

The movie looks into the life of a struggling person named Wade Whitehouse, played with extreme intensity by the descriptive Nick Nolte. He is the lowly sheriff of a small backwoods in New Hampshire. Nothing much happens in Lawford, however, thus Wade is usually restricted to plowing the snowy streets and serving as the local school's crossing guard. His ex-wife, Lillian (Mary Beth Hurt), has most custody of their daughter, Jill (Brigid Tierney), and neither relative enjoys his company. Wade's alcoholic father, Glen (James Coburn in an Oscar worthy performance), who abused him and his brother Rolfe (Willem Dafoe) as children, continues to abuse him emotionlly.

The subtle town of Lawford is turned upside-down when a rich businessman is mysteriously killed while hunting with Wade's friend, Jack Hewitt (Jim True). Finally given something to investigate, Wade takes his job seriously, even when complications arise when his mother dies, his brother comes home from Boston, and his waitress girlfriend (Sissy Spacek) meets Wade's parents and realizes what she gotten herself into.

As Wade's life starts to completely unravel, the filmmakers neglect to leave out any details; from flashback of his fathers abuse to an uncompromising toothache, Wade is developed vividly and clearly. The movie is best when allowing Nick Nolte and James Coburn to come to terms with each other's hatred for each other. The performances are what make this movie much more distinct than similar but lesser films like "The Other Sister" and "The Story of Us," and even better acted than the masterpiece Award winner "American Beauty."

Instead of milking the dysfunctional family material to the maximum, the film also has tender dialogue and heartfelt scenes that exhibit a loving relationship between Wade and his girlfriend. These scenes make even more tragic the production's unsettling conclusion and increase the overall dramatic impact, which is tremendous.

By the end of "Affliction," like in "The Ice Storm," we feel for the main character's losses. Although this film is more conclusive, it is also unmerciful; we receive no happy ending, no satisfying motifs, this movie takes itself seriously and has no pity, regrets, or agreements. For Wade Whitehouse, the climax of the movie represents death, grief and sorrow. For us, we can only stare at the screen and try to comprehend what we have experienced through his eyes.
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Great performances make this small indie effort
DJR-78 July 1999
For what is considered a small, independent film, this movie is packed with brilliant performances by two great actors. James Coburn is the dark, angry patriarch of an abusive household, whose abuse and anger are inherited by his son(Nolte). The story is told by the youngest brother (played mainly in voice-over and a small cameo by Willem Dafoe), and traces the events of a small town murder investigation that leads to the mental collapse of Nolte's cop character. The film weaves us through a buffet of sub-plots and bit characters (including a nice appearance by Sissy Spacek), which is at times whish-washed. However the tone and style of the film are quite fresh and unique.

Penned and directed by Paul Schrader, who will probably always be known for writing "Taxi Driver", the film is a stylish take of what is most likely a much better novel. The tone is cold and dark, and serves as the perfect backdrop for the anger and isolation of the two "male" characters. In my opinion, the voice-over narration takes away from the feeling the picture leaves, basically serving the purpose to tell us what to feel. The images and performances on the screen do a fine job in dong that on it's own, without re-enforcment. On a whole, the film is powerful and moving, and is a great look into the heart and soul of lives that are truely tortured. I would recommend this film if for no other reason than to see the brilliant performances of James Coburn (Oscar winner) and Nick Nolte (Oscar nominee).
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What it is to be a man
Linda-215 January 1999
Based on a novel by Russell Banks who also wrote "The Sweet Hereafter", and directed by Paul Schrader of "Raging Bull" and "The Mosquito Coast" fame, the winter landscape and cold bleakness of the town sets the tone for this exploration of the dark legacy of what it is to be a man.

Nick Nolte stars in this dark story of a the lone policeman in a small New Hampshire town investigating a hunting accident. James Coburn is excellent as Nick Nolte's father, a brutal and angry old man who typifies a sick machismo which has in turn afflicted his son. His acting is extraordinary as is Nolte's although their styles are different. Noltle is subtle; his facial expressions are controlled and typical of a man who has learned to hold in emotion. Coburn's face, on the other hand, is more deeply expressive; his eyebrows move, his mouth hardens, his eyes glare.

This is the kind of dark, brooding movie that I like. For a brief few hours I enter its world and get completely absorbed in the characters in the way I did with "A thousand Acres" or "The Horse Whisperers". Like these films, there are no easy answers and the conclusion does not wrap up in a neat little Hollywood package that is soon forgotten.
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A great piece of acting
jarsulo24 December 2005
This is the best film I've seen for a while. I don't understand all that whining and complaining about the weak plot or how depressing the film was. Well life is depressing at times. And more than tells a story, Affliction draws a beautifully sharp picture of one desperate, troubled but goodhearted man's breakdown. Nolte's acting is awesome and he sets into the role perfectly. I think he should have won the Oscar, although Coburn was great too and deserved his price. With it's snowy scenery and small town murder mystery Affliction shares similarities to Twin Peaks. I also like films that include some kind of a statement towards the world around us, and that's what Affliction does.
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Affliction Clearly Schrader's Best Film To Date
CitizenCaine25 November 2009
Warning: Spoilers
Roger Ebert described it well. The effects of abuse are similar to implanted medication. It continues to seethe inside the victim long after the original event or implantation. Nick Nolte stars as Wade Whitehouse, a shell of a man about to lose everything he has and knows, including his sanity, due just as much to his inability to learn to function as a person outside of the abusive environment he grew up in as his overbearing father's alcoholic stupors and redneck machismo. Nolte's mumbling has been criticized as indecipherable hogwash, but it's consistent with a person who has lost direction, confidence in himself, and his reason for being long ago. James Coburn plays Glen Whitehouse, Nolte's father, winning the best supporting actor Oscar for his mind-blowing portrayal of an abusive father who has simply played the same record over and over and over for many many years. Coburn's acting is a rare treat; in that, every action, gesture, nuance, and word of dialog coming out of his mouth makes up a portrait of abuse hanging in an imaginary gallery of contempt. Ironically, Wade and Glen share the name "Whitehouse", which of course symbolizes purity, goodness, and an idyllic existence all rolled into one but in reality is everything but that.

Nolte's character is a small town sheriff with nothing much to do except plow snow and double as a school crossing guard until a hunting accident occurs and uncovers a possible financial conspiracy. Meanwhile, Nolte must deal with fighting his ex-wife (Mary Beth Hurt) for custody of his daughter who has either been programmed by Hurt against Nolte or has other reasons for disliking him. Every aspect of and social interaction in Nolte's life reduces him to nothingness, whether he tries to buy his daughter a hamburger, plead with his ex-wife (Hurt), give a person a ticket for a moving violation, interact with his best friend or his boss, or has cross words with his father (Coburn). There is not the slightest hint of success in Nolte's past, present, or future, except for the possibility of his current relationship with his new waitress girlfriend played by Sissy Spacek. Watching Nolte's life unfold layer by layer, it's no surprise to viewers when Spacek bails on Nolte as well.

Director Paul Schrader wrote the script based on the novel by Russell Banks, and as in every good Schrader film, the acting and the dialog are outstanding. There is never a false note or Hollywood moment. Willem Dafoe, who previously starred in Schrader's earlier best effort Light Sleeper, plays Nolte's younger brother Rolfe who distanced himself emotionally and physically from this quagmire of a family years ago. So much so that Dafoe's ill-advised opinion regarding the hunting accident serves as the catalyst leading to a sequence of events, culminating in Nolte's Pyrrhic victory at the end. It's clear Dafoe's character did not know just how deep or how long Nolte's abuse was festering inside when Dafoe says "at least I was never afflicted by that man's (Coburn) violence". Nolte's character replies with "that's what you think" with a laugh and a tone of voice that makes it clear Wade Whitehouse has never been so sure of anything else ever before.

Schrader sets the film in New Hampshire (although it was filmed in Quebec) during a snowy winter and features several shots of bleak landscapes and dimly lit night scenes, the perfect complements to a script depicting one man's small world of despair and desolation closing in and trapping him like an unexpected winter storm. The script's dialog is balanced with fantastic scenes during which the characters reveal much by doing only a little at times. The flashback scenes showing Coburn interacting with his son(s) are like home movies in the Bizarro world; Nolte recalling a family life and memories not worth the effort but always there nevertheless. Sissy Spacek, as Nolte's waitress girlfriend, has a scene at Coburn's house with Nolte present, and she rolls up and tightens her hands in her face, realizing immediately what Nolte took a lifetime to do, if even then. Nolte's toothache throughout the film and how he ultimately chooses to deal with it serves as a metaphor for Schrader's exposure of Nolte's festering rage and his inability to appropriately express anger. He turns to violence, just as his father (Coburn) did, to assert himself, combat his feelings of inadequacy, and to solve his problems. Abuse and violence begets abuse and violence.

The film does not necessarily lead to any great redemption, resolution, or revelation. Instead, it builds quietly and slowly telling a story that many viewers are probably familiar with themselves, whether they share the similarity of alcoholic loved ones, a lack of success in their work or personal lives, or just shattered lives. It tells a story of how a man regresses from using his wits to his primitive instincts in order to survive emotionally. It's an interpersonal tragedy, and viewers with unflinching sunny dispositions may not identify with it at all. Viewers have complained about the film being too depressing, pointless, and a waste of their time, so liking the film a lot may be a matter of taste and tolerance, or it may just be that some viewers are unable to accept films without a happy or satisfying ending before the fadeout. ***1/2 of 4 stars.
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A great study in despair
Eelsnake20 February 2002
This film is a perfect example of how the sins of the father are not only visited upon the son, but are perpetuated by him, and serve to visit and affect others as well. There is one story line here: Wade Whitehouse, town police constable of Lawford, New Hampshire was raised by an abusive alcoholic grouch of a father. He has remained in the town while his siblings have fled. His terrible relationship with his father has infiltrated every relationship that he's had, and acts as the lens through which he sees and judges the world. Because of this, his relationships with different people are all ambivalent: He either respects them and turns to them as a pupil would his master, or he hates them, and violently lashes out at them because they have disappointed him in upholding his preconceived 'high assessments' of them. Wade is very unstable in that he seems to have a drinking problem, an inability to manage his anger, and as a result but also as a constant circuitous reason, a very low moral view of himself. In this elliptical plot, an important crystallizing event is the hunting accident that results in the death of a rich Bostonian with suspected links to organized crime named Evan Twombley, whose son in law--Mel Gordon--is in business with Wade's boss, Gordon LaRiviere (whom Wade both admires and despises). The New Hampshire State Police seem to think this is an open and shut case of accidental death: Twombley goes hunting with Wade's young friend Jack, winds up shooting himself, and that's that. However to Wade, this is not the end of the story. Wade's low assessment of himself, his having to deal with his father more closely after his mother's recent death, his financial destitution and reliance upon Gordon LaRiviere, as well as his failing attempt to have a close relationship with his estranged daughter Jill and ex-wife Lillian causes him in a desperate act of self assertion of his 'authority' to insist that Twombley was in fact murdered, and that all characters that surround him--his boss Gordon, Jack, and Mel--are involved in a sinister plot to not only get away with murder, but to deceive him and make him look foolish. As Wade's fantasy elaborately blooms into a wonderfully baroque and intricate starcaise to psychosis, his relationships with the people of Lawford and particularly with his close friends and family rapidly begin to deteriorate. Watching this occur is like witnessing an avalanche, and exemplifies Kierkegaard's assertion that one does not hit rock bottom in despair, but instead can always sink lower, perhaps infinitely. Needless to say, the film does not end on a happy note, yet I would commend this film to anyone because the plot is intense, the cinematography is excellent, and Schrader's directing is magnificent.
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Deep, complex, depressing
"Affliction" doesn't have an immediate plot. It's mostly a delve into a man's (Nick Nolte) psyche, a divorced alcoholic man who was abused as a child by his drunken father (James Coburn). He tries to cope, he tries to make something of himself by attempting to solve a hunting accident which he thinks is really a murder. He claims that after this, everyone will remember him as a hero.

Luckily the audience isn't made to believe Nolte's cause, to us he looks just as mad as he does to the characters around them. This is well done, because it could've been presented as some big twist at the end.

Anyway, the "mystery" element to the film isn't that important. It's mostly about how hard - and almost impossible - it is to prevent an emotionally abused man to make the same mistakes his father made. This idea is presented well, but by the end it just feels so thick and depressing that it's hard to take anything from the film, because you don't want to remember it.

Acting-wise the movie is quite good. Nolte delivers what I think is his best performance here, with a quiet desperation wonderfully put out by his eyes, voice, face, and so on. James Coburn does his usual well, but I have to question just why he won an Oscar for this. Don't get me wrong, he was a terrific actor and his performance in this is great, but he's not in many scenes, and the scenes he is in are mostly just a variation of the same thing: Coburn drunkenly and violently mumbles at his sons and eventually starts to yell and thrash. This is all well and good, but his scenes never go beyond that, except for (maybe) at the end when he spews his own sort of twisted philosophy to Nolte.

Other great performances come from Sissy Spacek as Nolte's increasingly uneasy girlfriend. Also Willem Dafoe as Nolte's brother who is so concerned with being quiet and not problematic that he cant prevent the build-up of violence and abuse in his family. I'd say that this performance is more Oscar worthy than Coburn's.

This is a good movie with a great message, but it doesn't put enough on the table, 7/10.
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Bleak, shocking, and brutal portrayals of men behaving badly.
india-313 May 2000
A portrait of a violent destructive father, almost giant-like, whose behavior is threatening and whose words crash against and down upon his sons, dashing them to smithereens, mentally and physically. The father has successfully destroyed his sons, in a long process which began when they were young boys, who stood and watched their father in a hot temper strike blows upon their mother. The sons are unable to touch him, to feel any emotions towards him, but fear and loathing. The father instills fear in the viewer of the film. He is scary. There is nothing to redeem this father. The son who escapes tells this story as the narrator. The scalding and searing hatred and loathing that each holds to some degree for the other is viewed against stark black and white photographs of a New England winter. Seething unrelieving pain is the film's central character. The father and son anesthetize pain in alcoholism, which the narrator-son manages to just escape. Torture, brutal and mental, is shared in this sad family and memories of it loom large and don't go away. The mother's world is silent, and viewing this film, the viewer is just rendered silent: there are no words to describe the lives of the father and his two sons. Wasted, brutalized, and lost are not enough. How many families are there living as the Whitehouses do in our world? Calculating this pain and sadness is the film's bottom line. Metaphors for these realities bounce about and jar the viewer: the son's rotten tooth, the pleasure the father expresses in giving pain to his two sons, the vocabulary of brutality that destroys the human spirit.
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What did you expect?
pamsfriend23 June 2007
A walk in the park, a fine romance, a Indy Jones and the Last Crusade. Come on, a combination of Russell Banks and Paul Shrader, the author who explores a school bus accident and the writer/director from Taxi Driver, or The Comfort of Strangers. Did you really expect a happy ending? The film is a dark side vision of Richard Russo's Nobody's Fool, which Paul Newman and Robert Benton turned into a tale of redemption on screen in that same part of the world. No redemption here. As Wade's brother's final voice-over lets you know that Wade is still out there, reliving his father's life, you are relieved to be permitted to leave this claustrophobic world.

Painful scene after painful scene are piled on each other, none more so than the painful rejection of Wade by his little girl. Children go through periods where their parents are embarrassments to them, but in this case, it is more of a fear than a shame of Wade that makes her want to be in her mother's arms.

This is a great film of uncompromising realism. It is a modern Jude The Obscure, but at least you were allowed to see Jude when he had hope and some happiness, and at the end he simply wore himself out. At the end of Affliction, all that you know is that Wade is out there in the world, his angers banked.

The film works because of Nolte's performance. Coburn has an easier job, but he carries it off. The sub-plots mean little, but show us Wade/Nolte in a field of action, and demonstrate that it is not only his personal life that is a mess.

Odd that Banks' The Sweet Hereafter locale was moved from upstate New York to British Columbia, and this film of bare rock, flinty New Hampshire was made in Canada also.
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Intense, raw, and uncomfortable
jakasper114 May 2007
I have seen this movie in bits and pieces, because it was difficult for me to watch it all the way through and digest it all at one time.

Paul Schrader's movies can have a dark, unsettling edge to them, and this movie is no exception.

Maybe because I brought personal baggage to the table while watching this, is why this movie gripped me so much. I have alcoholic relatives in my immediate and extended family, and I have seen what their anger and destructive behavior hath wrought.

Nick Nolte and James Coburn's characters made me squirm. Coburn received a best supporting Oscar for his role, and it is well-deserved. His character is a mean, vengeful, hateful alcoholic who inflicts his pain on others and afflicts one of his sons, Wade, played by Nick Nolte.

Very gripping and intense family drama.
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An American Classic
cormac_zoso10 August 2012
Warning: Spoilers
"Affliction", based on the disturbing novel by Russell Banks, is a monumental "little" film. It's one of those independents that got overlooked by the public but not by the critics and certainly not by fans of the incomparable Nick Nolte. I won't give a lot of details or a plot summary since it's been done several times already.

"Affliction" is the story of how alcoholism is a disease some family members "catch" but all are affected by negatively in some way. James Coburn, family patriarch, has the disease. Nick Nolte, eldest son, catches it. And both Willem Dafoe, youngest son, and Mary Beth Hurt, wife, are affected by it. The wife is beaten into submission years before while the youngest son in scared to death of his father and as he says in the film, "I was a careful child and I became a careful adult" (explaining how one episode caused him to be very careful around his father and thus, it is now his role in life).

But for this film, we are focusing on Nolte and Coburn who are so intense in this movie it is beyond belief that there was not a two-fer Oscar win for their performances. This is a father-son screen story for the ages worthy of a Greek tragedy. And as we join them at their current ages and the current stage of the battle, they are a frightening dynamic to watch.

See the story in the Trivia section of the preparation conversation between the director Paul Schrader and Coburn. It is a true shame that we were not given the opportunity to see Coburn truly act more often. I always liked Coburn since he seemed likable but his career was a string of mainstream mediocrity in which he was punching a clock. This role shows us the depth of this man's talent that sadly Hollywood and he wasted with choices more like the embarrassing "Snow Dogs" than true acting vehicles such as this.

For Nolte it was yet again another shaft by the Academy. People seem to be happy to equate Nolte's talent with the infamous mug shot that is so happily reprinted from a substance-related arrest. Why I do not know. I cannot think of another actor that I would lay down my money to see and know that am guaranteed my money's worth from his efforts at least. As someone mentioned in the comments, Tom Hanks (who also lost out on an Oscar in the same category losing to the lead role from the most insulting and disrespectful film made in many years, "Life is Beautiful"), would never have considered taking Nolte's role. Never. He is not going to take a role which contrasts with his "good guy" image and so we are treated to an endless stream of "average, nice guy wins" roles from him while Nolte, who takes more chances than any other actor in Hollywood, is continually ignored. This part is as skillfully crafted as his role in "Mother Night". You can see more of his talent in "Nightwatch" and more recently in "Off The Black", another small film he makes a big impact in. All ignored by the Academy.

Nolte's skill makes his paranoid reactions to situations believable where other actors would make it comical or simply awkward. His anger and angst as well as his broken personality bursts out of the screen. Throughout this film his character PLEADS for help in every way he can without sacrificing that tough, leathery exterior that "real men" are supposed to have in this country (at least of that generation, that last generation it was expected of) and that his father holds up as the highest achievement any man can attain. But he is a broken man, broken deep inside where it is nearly impossible to repair and must start with a soul being opened up completely like a gutted, helpless fish which is not something men growing up in a situation like this can ever do, during or after (though honestly there is never an after ... it is always during ... and it is for the rest of your life). Nolte makes it all so real and genuine many comments on this board say he "must not be acting and must really be like this". I don't know Mr. Nolte personally and I am certain others saying this do not. It's just one more way of snubbing his immense and honest talent in favor of what the news media and the hammerheads on the internet would rather have you believe is the Nolte that matters, that is, that infamous mug shot.

And what different "thing" does Nolte bring to every role? What makes the actor so unique? One thing I always notice is the walk, the gate of each character. In "Affliction" it is a rhythmic, self-assured stride as he is protecting what little of his insides there is left to try to save. But as the anger and the madness take him, the stride is hard, punching, and off-center.

In "Off The Black", his stride is also off-center, physically with his right foot pointing out and his left foot pointing in as he angles through his uncertain life, uncertain of himself and his place in the world.

I'm running out of room as I always do but Sissy Spacek and Willem Dafoe make big things of their smaller parts and flesh out the fun house mirror-feeling of the central figure's life that keeps us all off-balance to the sudden and brutal end.

Schrader directs this group to a perfect film in my opinion. It builds to a deafening, disturbing crescendo in steady, well-timed measures. He was also overlooked for the Oscar for what is his best film since "American Gigolo".

See this film. It cuts to the bone and then scrapes across the bone in a long slow draw.
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A sensitive, gritty portrait of one man trying to hang on.
Nat-242 February 2000
Nick Nolte presents a sympathetic portrait of a man trying to hold on to his daughter and job. His thwarted efforts bring on flashbacks that reveal a past which holds him in sway in more powerful ways than he realizes. The last fourth part of the movie is shocking for the swift revelation of character and consummation of latent forces from within. Sissy Spacek, in another brilliant performance, is the adoring girlfriend. James Coburn as the father is a convincing tyrant. Wonderful script and direction by Paul Schrader.
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refund, please
Pandora Peel17 March 1999
From the first minutes of this film I found myself more aware of the script's shortcomings than the action. I kept thinking, "These poor actors are trying their best, but I just don't see why the characters are saying that." But I soon discovered that I would never understand why any of the characters do anything in _Affliction_. Why is Margie so smitten with a loser like Wade? Why are Jill's parents so dang old when Wade mentions he got married when he was just a kid? Why does Rolfe suggest a conspiracy theory regarding the shooting "accident" and then later describe the plot as existing only in his brother's imagination, as if he had nothing to do with it? Why do the flashbacks suggest bad camcorder more than forty year old memory? And is it just me, or does Wade's boss have a weird accent? In this film Schrader has created a mess of underdeveloped plot lines which he can only salvage by tacking on a voiceover at the end to finish up the story and try in vain to explain to us why we should care. The alcoholic father is a one-dimensional monster (despite Coburn's noble attempts, I found myself praying that someone would kill him early into the movie), and the protagonist is so multidimensional that he is impossible to grasp. Mostly, I just didn't care what happened to any of these people. After shelling out nine bucks at the box office, I couldn't bear to leave, but I'll confess I did whip out a magazine and try to read, but it was just too dark (a good description of the film overall). The last time I was so bored by so much gratuitous familial dysfunction was when I saw _The Sweet Hereafter_, also based on a Russell Banks novel. I think Mr. Banks and Mr. Schrader each need to cough up $4.50, and maybe I'll forgive the waste of my time.

PS Yes, Nolte gave a great performance, but alas there is no Oscar for Best Actor in a Bad, Bad Movie.
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A good character study on inner afflictions
jdkraus25 May 2013
Warning: Spoilers
"Affliction." Defined as a state of pain, distress, and misery. One word and yet it means a lot. It also makes a catchy movie title, enough for me to check it out. The film focuses on two different unrelated stories about murder conspiracy and family abuse, seen through the eyes of a small town cop named Wade Whitehorse (Nick Nolte). While the film favors more of the later story than the former, it makes a mildly interesting character study of the movie's protagonist Wade. He is a very imperfect being. He drinks, he smokes, he is estranged from his ex-wife and distant daughter, all the while plagued by harsh memories of his alcoholic father (James Coburn). As the stories progress, they converge and overwhelm Wade as he desperately fights against both and makes some decisions that could harm his life as well as his loving girlfriend (Sissy Spacek). In the end, it comes down to whether his past afflictions from his dad will turn him into a wicked individual. The apple does not fall far from the tree they say.

No doubt director and writer Paul Schrader is heavily inspired by old film noir. The movie itself feels like such a genre-a character trapped within himself and from the world, unable to escape, aided with a melancholy score and obtuse camera angles that make the world seem like an inescapable void. The story itself is good noir, but it unfortunately drags. Some scenes go on longer than necessary and when things turn even more interesting, the movie abruptly ends. However, it makes up for with a great cast, particularly with Dafoe as the younger brother and James Coburn as the father. Coburn won an academy award for his performance, and it is not surprising. It is a very good role. He has a very strong dominating presence on screen that dwarfs Nolte, as it would with a cantankerous father with his sensitive son. Nolte is decent; his Neanderthal movements, gruff grumblings, and occasional tirades work well for him in this movie. Though I do think his Oscar nomination was a bit of an overkill. At times, it seemed that he was just being himself whereas Coburn immersed himself with his character. Dafoe on the other hand is very subtle and does a fine job.

Affliction overall is a good movie. Don't expect yourself to feel good after watching it. It may hit home for people who have grown up in an abusive home.
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"Unsentimental and heartfelt indie..."
Sindre Kaspersen25 February 2013
American screenwriter and director Paul Schrader's eleventh feature film which he wrote, is an adaptation of a somewhat autobiographical novel from 1989 by American writer Russell Banks. It premiered at the 54th Venice Film Festival in 1997, was shot on location in Quebec, Canada and is an American production which was produced by American producer Linda Reisman. It tells the story about a middle-aged policeman named Wade Whitehouse who lives in his father's house with his girlfriend Margie Frogg in a rural town. Wade is in a dispute with his former wife Lillian Whitehouse Horner about the custody of their daughter Jill, but when a fatal and questionable hunting accident occurs he becomes absorbed with the case.

Finely and engagingly directed by American filmmaker Paul Schrader, this finely tuned fictional tale which is narrated by one of the main characters and from multiple viewpoints, draws a literally afflicting and instantly involving portrayal of a domineering and abusive father's relationship with his two contrary sons who has differing views on their upbringing and a crime which one son embraces as it temporarily takes his mind away from his horrible childhood memories. While notable for it's naturalistic milieu depictions and sterling cinematography by Canadian cinematographer and director Paul Sarrosy, this character-driven and narrative-driven story about family relations and a man's strive to break free from his father's shadow depicts some pervasive studies of character and contains a great score by Canadian composer Michael Brook.

This conversational, throughout dramatic and literary psychological drama which is set in the state of New Hampshire during a deer hunting season, is impelled and reinforced by it's cogent narrative structure, substantial character development, poignant flashback scenes, conflicted characters, emotional substance, distinct acting performances by American actors Nick Nolte and James Coburn (1928-2002) and the fine acting performances by American actresses Sissy Spacek, Mary Beth Hurt and American actor Willem Dafoe. An unsentimental and heartfelt indie from the late 1990s which gained, among numerous other awards, the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor James Coburn at the 71st Academy Awards in 1999.
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Depressing, but, Moving...
namashi_113 August 2010
From the novel by Russell Banks, Paul Schrader's 'Affliction' is a depressing film, that leaves you with a hangover. Schrader's screenplay is so interesting and well-nuanced that your gripped throughout. The biggest plus point of the film, is, that it doesn't try to be REAL, because it pretty much is.

'Affliction' is the story of Wade Whitehouse, played amazingly by Nolte, a depressed/frustrated and deranged man who hasn't recovered from the child-abuse he suffered from his father, played by the late James Coborn. As Wade is a small-town policeman in New Hampshire, he begins to investigate of a recently-deceased.

'Affliction' is a sad story of a sad man, who slowly starts aping his evil father as life comes to him. Which becomes his biggest defeat. But, it's a memorable character nonetheless.

Paul Schrader's direction is brilliant as well. It's a tough subject to execute, understand and believe in. Schrader is at the top of his creativity in here.

Performance-Wise: Nick Nolte as Wade, is amazing. The veteran sinks his teeth into the character and delivers his careers finest performance. The Late James Coburn is astounding. He plays the evil-part superbly and it doesn't come as a surprise that he was awarded an Oscar for his work over-here. Willem Dafoe is wonderful in a brief, but substantial role. Sissy Spacek is good. Jim True passable.

On the whole, 'Affliction' is a must watch. It does depress you, but that is it's sheer power. Strongly Reccmended, with Two Enthusiastic Thumbs Up!
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A low-key, character driven film about a life in turmoil
Graham Greene30 April 2008
Having written the screenplays for Taxi Driver (1976) and Raging Bull (1980), director Paul Schrader is on familiar territory with this blistering adaptation of Russell Banks' cult novel, Affliction (1997). Here, Nick Nolte plays a local lawman and jobbing handyman Wade Whitehouse, a man whose entire life seems to be crumbling all around him. His marriage has ended, his daughter hates him, the town considers him a joke, and added to that he spends the entire film suffering from a severe case of toothache. Like many of Schrader's iconic anti-heroes, Wade is a man trying desperately to do the best he possibly can, but is unable to shake free from the grip of his abusive, hard drinking father Glenn; an almost personification of benign evil here, swaggering around in front of his children and casually beating his wife with a gleeful abandon. However, as the film progresses, Wade himself slips further into darker territories, revealing himself to be closer to his father than he initially expected as the film draws to an exasperating close.

Much like his scripts for Taxi Driver and Raging Bull, as well as his best film as director with the haunting and surreal Mishima; A Life in Four Chapters (1986), we know that the film is going to reach an eventual violent and downbeat final, as Wade continues to try and find his own kind of redemption amidst a series of unfortunate events. However, the film is so much more than just a meditation on male aggression, but a microcosm of everything from failure and defeat, as well as issues such as domestic violence and the impact that it has on the children of these families, with both of the central characters here affected by their father who casts a terrifying shadow over both their lives, and the film.

If there is a fault with the picture however, then it's the ending. Right up until then we're drawn into these character's lives through the great all round performances from Nolte, Coburn, Spacek, Dafoe, et al, and from the low-key direction of Schrader. But the final act seams so rushed that I really needed to take a second to think about how it affected the film as a whole. A minor criticism admittedly, especially given that the rest of the film is definitely worth experiencing.
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Haunting and disturbing
jpm61030 December 2005

What a basket full of acting desserts. Nick Nolte, James Coburn and Sissy Spacek in a cold and bleak New Hampshire landscape, all moved and disturbed in their own destinies. A well-deserved Oscar for Coburn. To die for writing. You feel the pain and humanity of each character. Schrader's direction is on the mark.


Without spoiling the end, would liked to have seen a fuller resolution to things. I guess I just need more closure after having invested so much empathy in these characters. After all this film is solely about character development.


If you're in the mood to be depressed (and I think we all are once in a while), this is the ticket. A fabulous drawn out scream against how misaligned life can go and the things we might do in our attempts to redirect it. Possibly Nick Nolte's very best performance. Seven out of ten.
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Good but flawed
Nedward2 September 1999
It's so annoying to watch a movie that could be improved so much with only a few changes. First of all, the ending was completely ruined by an unnecessary and expositional voice over by Willam Dafoe. His narration throughout is completely useless and simply breaks up the story. Next is the murder mystery that is badly done. It should have been expanded or completely eliminated. Also, lots of rich characters could have been expanded on. On the other hand, the performances are all incredible. The script is good at showing the effects of abuse but the flaws mask it. Worth seeing but it will annoy you that it came so close to being incredible.
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The worst "affliction" is watching this entire thing from beginning to end...
excalibur21225 May 2008
This piece of sloth won an Oscar? You've got to be kidding me. This is perhaps the most slow moving, boring, uneventful "drama" I've ever watched. You kept waiting for something to happen, and nothing did. Half the time you couldn't even make out the dialogue (I think Nolte was drunk or stoned in real life as he mumbled through the script; and, no, I don't think it was intentional). There's a toothache, a murder, a divorce....and why do I care? This movie struggles trying to decide what to be. Is it a murder mystery? A drama? Or just a pointless waste of time? Mostly the latter. The ending made absolutely no sense at all and was completely unfulfilling to the script and the audience. The expected gradual buildup one anticipated was completely absent...there is no "descent into madness" or anything like that. It is more like 2 hours of nothing, horribly drawn out, followed by about 5 minutes of a series of events that should have been the climax, mostly reduced to flashback and 3rd party offscreen narration! (And bad narration, I might add - Willem Dafoe might be a great actor, but he should never be allowed to read/narrate a film again. He sounds like he's reading out of a book.) I understand the deeper intent, but the execution was pathetic. I would not curse sitting through this entire film again on anyone. There are much better movies out there to deal with substance abuse and violence...this is not one of them. Mostly it's just a bunch of exposition and wasted time. Quite an affliction on the viewer indeed!
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A movie with no direction
nickd9917 February 2000
Affliction they called it. Ya it had pain and grief, so the title did fit the movie very well. However this movie had no direction. There were many little problems through out the movie, which at times made it hard to focus on because the movie kept switching from a set of characters struggles to a different set. As I watched this movie, I kept thinking that they would tie in some of these issues and bring the story together in the end, but it never happened. This movie was a very slow and dry paced film. Yes at the end of the movie, it was clear what the main goal was, but how they got there was simply terrible. I don't recommend this movie to anyone. I endured an hour and 55 minutes of it and I never would again.
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Well titled - this movie was an affliction!
dnwalker6 January 2001
This movie is one of the worst I've ever seen. It ranks down with Hotel New Hampshire and Hot Spot as one of the few I've awarded a score of one on a scale of one to ten.

There were no good guys in the movie. Nor was there a plot. Nick Nolte simply ran around doing inane things which had no point, driving away both his daughter and his girlfriend in the end.

Making movies about such drivel as this is a disservice to the public. Nolte's father was a sorry human being. So what. He needed to get over it and get a life. Glorifying or excusing his behavior just because he had a sorry father is not a worthwhile objective for the entertainment industry to pursue.
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