Sunday 19 November 2023

Movie Review: Affliction (1997)

Genre: Character Drama
Director: Paul Schrader
Starring: Nick Nolte, James Coburn, Sissy Spacek, Willem Dafoe
Running Time: 114 minutes

Synopsis: Wade Whitehouse (Nick Nolte) is the nominal police presence in a small and snow-covered New Hampshire town. Divorced and failing to reconnect with his young daughter, Wade suffers from a short temper and lingering trauma due to childhood abuse he suffered at the hands of his father Glen (James Coburn). Wade confides in his Boston-based brother Rolfe (Willem Dafoe) and girlfriend Margie (Sissy Spacek), but the mysterious death of a hunter in the woods followed by the death of Wade's mother - plus a persistent toothache - combine to test his limits.

What Works Well: Director and writer Paul Schrader adapts the Russell Banks book with an emphasis on mood and milieu. Camouflaged as either a crime mystery or a custody crisis, this is a carefully constructed character study about the persistent weight of a dreadful past and a disappointing present. Nick Nolte's rumbling presence projects a losing battle between civilized behaviour and the continuity of abuse, with James Coburn's domineering and unapologetic caveman attributes casting a long shadow. Accompanied by an ominous music score, the Paul Sarossy cinematography captures a frigid middle-of-nowhere New England town where the rusting police cars don't even carry decals, and the locals antagonize each other because there is not much else to do.

What Does Not Work As Well: The narration is unnecessary, and both Willem Dafoe and Sissy Spacek are underutilized. Despite a healthy running time, the postscript is overloaded.

Conclusion: Emotions simmer underneath frigid exteriors.

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