A film by Robert Benton

I was actually looking forward to this movie. I loved the Philip Roth novel that this movie was based on, and there is some serious acting talent involved. The director is the same one who made Kramer VS Kramer. With all of this talent, and all of this promise, the film does not ultimately deliver.

This film is narrated (periodically) by Nathan Zuckerman (Gary Sinise). Zuckerman is a writer who is living in a cabin near Athena College. He tells us about Coleman Silk (Anthony Hopkins). Coleman was the Dean of Athena College. He retired in the midst of a rather large scandal due to an alleged racial slur he made in a classroom ( are they real, or are they spooks ). In context, he was asking if two students were ghosts. Out of context, he asked if two students (who had not attended a single class in 5 weeks) were spooks, and those two students turned out to be black. Coleman turned to Zuckerman to write the story of this absurd charge. Zuckerman says that he can t write it, but as Coleman and Zuckerman become friends, we are shown Coleman s life in the past and present.

The racist allegation is absurd because Coleman, despite his white skin, is a black man. His parents are black (though light skinned), his sister and brother are black. Coleman just happens to have skin so light he can pass as a white man (it s not impossible, a minor white character in the film is actually played by a black man). We see Coleman s past, and see how he decides to identify himself a white man rather than accept who and what he is.

In the present, Coleman has begun an affair with Faunia Farely (Nicole Kidman), a woman 40 years younger than he is. Coleman s wife had died, and Faunia just seems to want sex and a little companionship. Coleman feels like a new man (all the while extolling the virtues of Viagra). The only problem is that Faunia s ex-husband Les (Ed Harris) is still stalking her and is angry and resentful towards both Faunia and Coleman.

The movie weaves these two stories together (the past and present), and together it makes up The Human Stain. While this worked incredibly well in the novel, in the film it seems to be missing something. The parts are greater than the whole. The acting in this movie is fantastic. This may be Ed Harris s best work in several years (despite his recent Academy Award nominations). Hopkins, Kidman, and Sinise are all solid. The only failing is in the construction of the movie. It all fits together, but it doesn t seem to work as well as it should. The Coleman/Faunia storyline is the main story, but anytime the movie slips into flashback, we are taken completely out of that previous story (despite how well done the flashbacks are). The other problem is that there just isn t a whole lot to the Coleman/Faunia story. The Human Stain has a lot to recommend it, but when taken as a whole it just doesn t succeed or live up to its pedigree.

I give this movie 3 1/2 pugs out of 5.