The Net Net Home


















Contribute Masthead About Home


Review by Jay Rittenberg

Buy the Video

Directed/Written By: Paul Schrader
Starring: Nick Nolte, James Coburn, William Dafoe, Sissy Spacek

When I learned that screenwriter Paul Schrader penned the script for "Affliction," I thought, "Where does the line form?" With "Taxi Driver" and "Raging Bull" on his bio, I was expecting another on-the-edge headliner facing his share of personal demons type of movie and I was right! Instead of Robert De Niro, the writer/director asked Nick Nolte to portray the film's tormented soul Wade Whitehouse and he delivers with an Oscar caliber performance. In fact, it is his haunting work here, accompanied by an equally frightening turn by James Coburn, that overcomes a surprisingly sluggish adaptation of Russell Banks' novel.

The film opens with William Dafoe (who narrates as well as playing Wade's brother Rolfe) reminiscing about the tragic story of his older brother and how things started to unravel one Halloween night in Lawford, New Hampshire. The town's jack-of-all-trades (Wade) is the snow plow guy, school monitor, and everyday lawman, but his most important duty is playing daddy to his little girl Jill (Brigid Tierney) whom he loves very much. Unfortunately, his daughter fears him as much as she loves him. It's too bad because you can tell just how badly he wants to connect with her, but no matter what he does -- it's just not good enough! The end result is always the same -- the poor girl wants to go back home to her mom Lillian (Mary Beth Hurt).

Even though Jill is very happy, Wade has these delusions that she'll somehow be happier living with him full-time. His vivid imagination is not just limited to his daughter. When his best friend Jack (Jim True) goes out one morning as a hunting guide and his rich and politically connected client suddenly dies, Wade finds his "accidentally croaked" scenario just too convenient. He's convinced that Jack is part of an intricate conspiracy and what actually happened in the woods was a mob hit and cover-up. Unfortunately, no one buys Wade's far-fetched notions, but you've got to give the guy credit for perseverance!

Although his ex-wife and daughter have given up on him, Wade still has two cards up his sleeve that he can count on for emotional support. His girlfriend Marge (Sissy Spacek) is a kind hearted and patient woman who's willing to stand by her man. He's also got his baby brother Rolfe (Dafoe) whom he's always looked after and protected. Wade continuously counts on them for their support especially whenever he pays a visit to see his father.

Wade Whitehouse is (sadly) a byproduct of his old man. Even as an adult, fear settles in whenever he has to go see his dad. We learn early on (through the chillingly effective use of flashbacks) what a brutal monster his father really is. Most vivid are the scenes in the dead of winter when he put his kids to work and mocked them whenever they cried in agony. You suffered along with Wade through his childhood and can certainly understand why he turned out the way he did.

It is thanks to Nolte's powerhouse Oscar nominated performance, aided by some strong support by James Coburn (who was also nominated for an Oscar), that lifts the film from its mediocre state. Unlike "A Simple Plan," you have to be very patient with this film. There are some dead spots throughout along with a fine supporting cast that is completely wasted. The dynamics between Wade and his father take time to build and if you can overlook some far-fetched moments (the majority of Wade's presumptions) then you'll catch one hell of a performance (one of Nolte's best) that's worth the price of admission. Sometimes when the performance is that good (like it is here) you have to turn the other cheek!

Nolte is perfectly cast as the burnt-out lawman who self destructs right before our eyes. His uncontrollable outbursts not only remind you of Travis Bickle, but because his character is undeniably sympathetic, you feel for him in the same manner you felt for Billy Bob Thornton's character Jacob from "A Simple Plan." Comparisons to "Cape Fear" are also inevitable since Nolte is now the one playing the tormented soul looking for answers that will never come his way. Wade is indeed a mess, but can we blame him? This is an unstable man thanks to his horrific father (Coburn in an unforgettable performance). He simply can't put things behind him because every time he steps inside his father's house the pain resurfaces.

Nolte has always been a solid actor, but for the first time, he really lets us get into the soul of his character and we suffer along with him. We feel his pain and know that he wants to do good, but he doesn't have the means to show it -- they were taken away from him at a very young age by his ruthless father. The things he says and does as a consequence are sadly beyond his control. He is simply a man overwhelmed by his failure to be a part of his family's life. When he tells us that he loves his daughter and that he's hanging on by a thread -- you believe him! You also find yourself wanting to help him even though you know there's nothing that you can do.

"Affliction" should be remembered as a film with two exceptional performances that help propel it over its apparent weaknesses. It is not a perfect film by any stretch and certain things should have been done differently, but the agony expressed by its central character make you hang in there and pay attention.

The film with its chilling atmosphere and wintry backdrop ends with as many questions as it answers. It's a difficult movie to watch because it offers very little hope and more pain than relief, but it rewards us with a fascinating portrait of a complex man who must somehow find a way to continue living a life which ended when he was just a child.

It is a character we may or may not be able to relate to, but one we shouldn't miss seeing!

The Net Net is affiliated with
All contents of this Web site are copyright © 1996 - 2001 The Net Net and individual artists and authors. Do not reproduce contents of this site without permission of The Net Net and the artist or author. You may link to this site freely.
Design by Marmoset Media. Illustrations by Les graphiques Grenade. Hosted by The Anteroom.