"In America,’ "Human Stain’ kick off Academy Screenings | VailDaily.com

"In America,’ "Human Stain’ kick off Academy Screenings

Stewart Oksenhorn/Aspen Correspondent

Film fans have come to expect a certain kind of film from Jim Sheridan.

Sheridan is the co-writer and director behind the Irish trilogy of “My Left Foot,” “In the Name of the Father” and “The Boxer,” all of which starred Daniel Day-Lewis. All three films were intense, tough-as-nails portraits of the difficult lives of ordinary but heroic Irishmen.

With “In America,” Sheridan leaves Day-Lewis behind, moves across the Atlantic and switches tones and perspective. The sentimental film tells the story of a modern Irish family’s move to New York City through the eyes of the young girl, Christy. Christy sees her parents struggle and witnesses tragedy in the new world. At the same time, her eyes are opened to the possibilities offered by her new existence.

There is a family quality to the making of the film. Sheridan wrote the film with his daughters, Naomi and Kristen. The fictional family’s two daughters are played by real sisters, Emma and Sarah Bolger. Starring as the parents are Paddy Considine and Samantha Morton; Djimon Hounsou plays the mysterious neighbor, Mateo.

“The Human Stain’

Maybe the best thing to do with “The Human Stain” would have been to leave Philip Roth’s novel of race, sex and anger in book form. A powerful and complex story, no one would have had the unenviable task of bringing it to the screen and squeezing it into 120 minutes.

But someone decided that “The Human Stain” had to be a cinematic endeavor, too.

Robert Benton was drafted to direct, and he does a not-bad job of it. Where disaster lurked, Benton turns “The Human Stain” into a thoughtful, reasonably-penetrating work.

Anthony Hopkins gives an acceptable performance as Coleman Silk, a university professor angered by his ouster from the position, and casting about for what to do with his still intact vitality. Silk also has a nearly life-long secret to keep about his identity, and if we don’t quite buy the physical aspect of that secret, it doesn’t ruin the movie.

Far more disastrous is Nicole Kidman’s portrayal of Faunia, an emotionally-tortured janitor who becomes Silk’s lover.

Kidman is capable of unglamorous transformations; witness her turn as Virginia Woolf in “The Hours.” But here, she captures nothing. Faunia seems a different character in each scene, and we never grasp just who she is.

Better than both of the principals is Ed Harris as Faunia’s demented ex-husband, Lester. Harris is unforgettable. Maybe the smartest thing to have done with “The Human Stain” would have been to extract Lester from the novel – there’s a lot of interesting stuff about him that doesn’t make it to the screen – and give him his own story.

Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is stewart@aspentimes.com.

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