Genre: Mystery & Suspense
Runtime: 1 hr 53 min
MPAA Rating: R
Director: Paul Schrader
Starring: Nick Nolte, Brigid Tierney, Holmes Osborne, Jim True-Frost, Tim Post
It is a marvelous and moving film in its own right.
Review by: SteveRhodes
Added: 8 years ago
Better bring an extra wrap with you to AFFLICTION, as the snowy New Hampshire landscapes and the chilling story will likely send some shivers up your spine.
Russell Banks, a master at creating character studies set in the frozen north, has had his second novel in as many years adapted for the screen. About a year ago, Atom Egoyan's adaptation of Banks's THE SWEET HEREAFTER was number two on my best of the year list. This time writer and director Paul Schrader, whose previous pictures include LIGHT SLEEPER and TOUCH, brings Banks's AFFLICTION to the screen.
In what would seem certain to be an Academy Award nominated performance, Nick Nolte plays Wade Whitehouse, a policeman of sorts. Actually, being the small town's law enforcement officer is only one of his jobs. He's also the school crossing guard and a snowplow operator, and he's not taken seriously as a cop. Even his speeding tickets are liable to be refused by the local scofflaws.
The story starts ominously on the night before the opening of deer season. Wade, who has been married twice to the same woman, is now a divorced dad. His daughter reluctantly accompanies him to a Halloween party that night, but she soon begs to go home to mom, played by Mary Beth Hurt, whom you probably will not recognize.
The next day, Wade's buddy, Jack Hewitt (Jim True), is hired to accompany an out-of-town hunter, who is then killed in a hunting accident. Doubts about what really happened occur only to Wade, making him persona non grata with the local establishment.
Attempting to resolve this mystery, if it is one, is half of the story. The other, and more compelling aspect, is Wade's relationship with his father, Glen, played in probably the best performance of his life by James Coburn.
A violent alcoholic, who is so mean that he literally freezes his wife to death, Glen has treated his family vilely all of his life. Glen apparently learned his family values from his father. ("My old man was a real man who didn't let women push him around.") Glen is infamous around the small town where they live, with people at bars still telling stories about his abuse of his kids.
Nick Nolte, who usually plays strong, macho characters, shows us his vulnerable side. Although firmly rejecting his father's values, he has the family demons flowing strong in his blood. His drinking is getting worse and his temper seems in danger of exploding.
To make matters worse for Wade, he has a horrible toothache throughout most of the movie. With no dentist appointments available, a red-faced Wade claws at his face as if he will scrape his entire jaw away with his bare hands, he is in so much pain. Like the recent movie, INSOMNIA, in which lack of sleep affected the detective's judgement, the toothache begins to alter Wade's.
Wade's brother Rolfe (Willem Dafoe) believes that, when he was a child, he successfully avoided his father, so he wasn't "affected." Wade casts doubts on his brother's claim. At any rate, Rolfe is a teetotaler and the family's Rock of Gibraltar, when he is around. (He wisely left town years earlier.) Their sister, who appears briefly, is a born-again Christian, a role that is relegated to caricature.
Dafoe is good but underused on the screen. He is also the narrator, which is the script's biggest mistake. The narrator simply isn't needed, and the lines he is given tend too often to turn a profound scene into a trite one with the narration's pomposity.
Sissy Spacek has a wonderful small part as Wade's supportive girlfriend. Spacek doesn't get much screen time, just enough to make you wish directors would cast her more often.
Paul Sarossy's cinematography is stunning. The snow and the gray skies all have a dreary and foreboding steel-blue cast to them. The tragically sad movie contains some powerful performances. While it isn't quite in the same league as the last Russell Banks adaptation, it is a marvelous and moving film in its own right.
AFFLICTION runs 1:53. It is rated R for violence, profanity and one scene of dope smoking. The film would be fine for mature teenagers.