Human Stain [2003]

Given the formidable challenge of adapting Philip Roth's acclaimed novel to the screen, it's a wonder that The Human Stain retains so much of what makes Roth's novel a masterpiece. As adapted by Nicholas Meyer, Robert Benton's film is inevitably a different animal altogether, and it's wide open to charges of miscasting and thematic diffusion. But at its core, this delicate drama succeeds in exposing the sins that stain all of humanity, forcing men like former welterweight boxer and esteemed professor Coleman Silk (Anthony Hopkins) to forsake family and career to conceal his African American heritage. Light-skinned and passing as a Jewish professor of classics in a tony East Coast college, 71-year-old Silk sinks into scandal when an innocent remark is misinterpreted as a racist slur, and this--along with his affair with an illiterate 34-year-old janitor (Nicole Kidman), and friendship with a reclusive novelist (Gary Sinise)--forms the crux of Benton's multilayered inquiry into the oppressive aftershocks of guilt, shame, and mourning, and the effects of judgment (internal and external) on our ability to connect. Roth's novel was one thing, Benton's film is another. Despite differing degrees of success, both are worthy of praise. --Jeff Shannon

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