The Human Stain (2003)

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Released 11-Jan-2005

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Main Menu Introduction
Main Menu Audio & Animation
Menu Audio
Featurette-Behind The Scenes
Featurette-Jean Yves Escoffier Tribute
Rating ?
Year Of Production 2003
Running Time 101:17
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Robert Benton
Studio
Distributor

Walt Disney Studios Home Ent.
Starring Anthony Hopkins
Nicole Kidman
Ed Harris
Gary Sinise
Wentworth Miller
Jacinda Barrett
Harry J. Lennix
Clark Gregg
Anna Deavere Smith
Lizan Mitchell
Kerry Washington
Phyllis Newman
Margo Martindale
Case ?
RPI ? Music Rachel Portman


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
English for the Hearing Impaired
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Since winning the Best Actress Oscar for her portrayal of Virginia Woolf in The Hours, Nicole Kidman has seemingly not stopped making films - at last count eleven have either been completed, are in production or are slated for her to star in. In 2003 alone she starred in three staggeringly different productions: Anthony Minghella's Civil War epic Cold Mountain, maverick director Lars von Trier's dour anti-American portrait Dogville and probably the least publicised of the three, The Human Stain. Adapted from acclaimed American novelist Philip Roth's Pulitzer prize winning work and boasting the creative talents of Oscar winning director Robert Benton and no less than four Oscar nominated actors (including two winners, Kidman and Anthony Hopkins, along with Ed Harris and Gary Sinise) it is surprising that the film barely registered on the cinema radar. Reviews were mixed, some highly critical of the casting of the two leads with still more still claiming that Roth's complex novel had been turned into that ugliest of films - one that considered itself better and far more important than it really was. With that in mind it was with some trepidation that I sat down to watch it. How extraordinary then that I found it to be a rewarding and quite haunting meditation on the human condition, to quote William Golding, in 1990s USA. True it is not the masterpiece many expected, but neither do I think is Roth's novel. Unlike Iris, a film that did suffer from its extraordinary pedigree, it succeeds in enveloping us in the story rather than having us marvelling begrudgingly at the quality of the "for your (the Academy's) consideration" performances.

    Nathan Zuckerman (Gary Sinise), a common thread through many of Roth's novels, narrates the story of Coleman Silk (Anthony Hopkins), whom he introduces as one of the first Jews to work in the Classics Department of a university in the United States. The story begins amidst the aftermath of President Clinton's affair with intern Monica Lewinsky and it seems political correctness has gone mad (madder than usual anyway). After innocently referring to two absent students as 'spooks', Silk is hauled before the college's administrators and accused of racism - the students were African Americans (which Silk did not know) and the term was a derogatory one. In a rage Silk quits and after the sudden death of his wife, arrives unannounced on Zuckerman's doorstep. Silk soon after begins a somewhat scandalous affair with Faunia Farley (Nicole Kidman), a seemingly trashy yet complicated and intelligent woman (different from the character in the book, who came from a wealthy but abusive family), whose life is marked by tragedy that her dangerous ex-husband (Ed Harris) refuses to let her forget. Silk's friendship with Zuckerman gives us paths into his past, revelations of which reveal the darker side of American society in generations past.

Some criticism was made of the fact that the actor playing the young Coleman Silk (Wentworth Miller, who delivers a wonderful performance) bears almost no physical resemblance to Anthony Hopkins. Personally, after the initial distraction I didn't think this was an issue - the excellence of both performances, and the echoes of each other the actors brought to their own performances allayed any concerns I may have had.  Benton's direction is undemonstrative and subtle but it is the performances above all that carry the show, and they do so splendidly. The whole cast is absolutely superb and I think Kidman's work here is better than her dowdy turn in The Hours. Charges of "egregious miscasting" of the two leads were made but I find such criticisms unhelpful. If one is unhappy with the choice of Hopkins or Kidman, who might I ask would have been more suitable and also had the clout to get the film made in the first place? Adaptations of dense, complex books will inevitably seem a little 'lost', for want of a better word - lacking in momentum, as so much must be excised in the interests of time and some episodes and characters remain defiantly uncinematic. However, although there are times one wishes for greater exploration of these fascinating characters, I think that is more a testament to the strength of the acting than a criticism. This is a respectful, thoughtful and haunting film that deserved greater recognition than it received.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    This is a somewhat disappointing transfer for such a recent film, and is marred by a couple of problems. It is presented at its originally intended aspect ratio of 2.35:1, with 16x9 enhancement.

    Beautifully shot by the late cinematographer Jean-Yves Escoffier (whose last film this was), this film's presentation is a little soft for my liking and shadow detail does suffer on occasion, particularly in scenes inside Faunia's room at the dairy farm.

    Colours are for the most part realistically presented and seem deliberately subdued. The palette is suitably reserved and well recreated, with accurate looking skin tones, although on occasion they tended to red a little too much.

    MPEG artefacts are something of a problem and there is an occasional drag on the image which is distracting.

    Thankfully film artefacts are absolutely minimal.

    By far the biggest problem in the transfer is aliasing. It is a real distraction and being one of my pet hates, detracts significantly from my enjoyment of the film. See 5:13 or 70:32 for some of the worst examples of this.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    We have been presented with a solitary English 5.1 Dolby Digital track that is perfectly suited to the film.

    Dialogue is crystal clear, although some may struggle with hearing Kidman's (most convincing) American accent as she occasionally almost whispers.

    Audio sync is terrific and I detected not dropouts or blemishes of note.

    The surrounds are not used extensively but Rachel Portman's beautifully haunting score is lent some weight and depth through the rear channels and subwoofer. There are other occasional instances of natural ambience being aided by the surround channels but in a film such as this, most of the action is centred squarely at the front.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    The extras are, quite frankly, a bit of a joke.

Making-of Featurette

    The making-of featurette is pure fluff - seven minutes of superficial backslapping that offers no insight into the film. The presentation is also ordinary, without 16x9 enhancement.

A Tribute to Jean-Yves Escoffier

    This great cameraman lensed some wonderful films, including Good Will Hunting, but the butchered frames of the films presented in this two minute montage are disrespectful to the work of an artist of the late Escoffier's talent.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    In addition to a dubbed French Dolby Digital 5.1 track, we miss out on a couple of trailers, and as similar problems were encountered with the Region 1 transfer I would opt for the local product.

Summary

    Many people were highly critical of this film. I'm not one of them - I thought it was compelling and literate.

    The video transfer has some deficiencies.

    The audio is excellent if a little front heavy.

    The extras are of very ordinary quality and quantity.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Scott Murray (Dont read my bio - it's terrible.)
Friday, October 01, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDYamaha DVR-S100, using Component output
DisplaySony 76cm Widescreen Trinitron TV. Calibrated with THX Optimizer. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to DVD Player, Dolby Digital and DTS. Calibrated with THX Optimizer.
AmplificationYamaha DVR-S100 (built in)
SpeakersYamaha NX-S100S 5 speakers, Yamaha SW-S100 160W subwoofer

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