Sunday, January 20, 2008

Movie Review: The Human Stain

When we lived in Oak Park, our cable (Adelphia, now Time Warner) was taken care of through the HOA and was part of the monthly fees. Not bad – except that their particular cable package didn’t include the Independent Film Channel (IFC). (But, but, bu, wha, hey . . . [hyperventilation] . . . Noooo! ) Happily, when we moved to Moorpark recently, we picked up a DirecTV package that included IFC. So, not only do we have access to all that indie goodness again, but now I can record hours upon hours of it, glutting myself to make up for the two years of deprivation. Yay to overcompensating. :)

One recently recorded IFC movie we took in was The Human Stain; based on a novel by Philip Roth; screenplay by Nicholas Meyer; directed by Robert Benton; starring Anthony Hopkins, Nicole Kidman, Gary Sinise, and Ed Harris. I do so wish I had read the book so I could smugly tell you, “Well, you know, the movie is okay, sure, but the book really is so much better.” (I mean, really? Come on. Does anyone even need to say that anymore? I’ve yet to come across a movie that has outdone the bestselling book from which it was derived. If anyone would care to point out an anomaly of which I’m unaware, please do.) Anyway, where was I? Ah yes, The Human Stain. While I’m not a huge Kidman fan, I do tend to like most of Hopkins’, Sinise’s, and Harris’ work, and I had heard the book was pretty stellar, so we hunkered down on the couch with the cat this Sunday and queued it up.

Ok, this time with all honesty and not as an insolent aside, I will say I Do wish I had read the book. I think the movie does a fine job of telling a tale of identity crisis, pride, shame, fear, loss, skeletons in the closet, and so much more, but I can only imagine that the book does a much finer job of laying out the details and dovetailing the pieces together (e.g., the scene with Kidman and the crow is awkward and not anchored well enough to the rest of the narrative). In the end, though, I think it’s unreasonable to expect movies to live up to the books which inspired them. And, since I seldom go back and read the book After I’ve seen the movie, I can say without prejudice that I was pretty satisfied with the film based on its own merits - not a 5-star rating, but far from a turkey. I’d say a respectable 4 stars. The main storyline, which unfolded through flashbacks interspersed at just the right pace, offered surprising insights and lent deeper meaning to the “present-day” footage (i.e., this often overused cinematic devise was actually employed rather deftly here).

I really want to say so much more about the movie, but I don’t want to give away vital information or highlights, so I will just say I do recommend you see it if you have the opportunity. My little quasi-review wouldn’t be complete, however, if I didn’t also share the following with you. After viewing the movie, I happened to reach down beside the couch and pick up the book review section of the L.A. Times, and there on page R3 was an article called “Affirmative fractions” by Erin Aubry Kaplan. The review was of Harvard University law professor Randall Kennedy’s new book Sellout and was basically a commentary on betraying one’s racial identity versus the freedom to choose one’s racial identity – the perfect thought piece for me to consider after having just watched a movie covering a similar theme. I love those moments in life that seem to be magically tailored to your experience of it.

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