Coleman Silk is a man who, throughout his life, has been a master of deception and self-reinvention. As a promising college student, Coleman's first love, Steena, is shattered by a secret. Years later, as an esteemed professor, his career is ruined by false accusations. Now as he embarks on a scandalous affair with the mysterious Faunia, Coleman experiences an erotic reawakening that carries him back to the past. But with his resurrected passion also comes the threat of danger from Faunia's ex-husband, and Coleman is faced with the imperative to expose his true identity before it is too late.
An honorable B+ term paper of a movie: sober, scrupulous and earnestly respectful of its literary source. The problem is that the source, Philip Roth's 2000 novel, is not especially sober or scrupulous: it is an angry, ungainly squall of a book, a clamorous defense of sexual vitality in an age of Puritan censoriousness and a lyrical inquiry into the mysteries of race, old age and recent American history. As Coleman Silk, a Classics professor chased from his job after being absurdly accused of racism, Anthony Hopkins has a loose, mellow exuberance that almost persuades you to overlook a basic, insurmountable improbability, namely that his character is a black man who has spent most of his adulthood passing for white. Nicole Kidman, playing Coleman's abused, impoverished and much younger lover, is almost as hard to believe, but her performance is nonetheless serious and unaffected. Some of the best work comes in smaller parts: Wentworth Miller as young Coleman; Anna Deavere Smith as his mother; and especially Jacinda Barrett as the great love of his youth. The movie has many memorable, moving scenes — as well as a few awkward and embarrassing ones — but it never coheres either dramatically or intellectually, largely because it lacks a way to approximate the novel's unifying force, which is Mr. Roth s unruly, passionate and brilliant voice. — A. O. Scott
2003-10-31 | A. O. Scott | Read the New York Times Review of The Human Stain