Affliction (1997) / Drama
MPAA Rated: R for violence and language
Running Time: 114 min.
Cast: Nick Nolte, Sissy Spacek, James Coburn, Willem Dafoe, Mary Beth Hurt
Director: Paul Schrader
Screenplay: Paul Schrader (based on the novel by Russell Banks)
Review published January 15, 1999
Nolte (U Turn, I Love Trouble) plays Wade, a cop in a small town in New Hampshire. He struggles with his wife leaving him and his daughter not wanting to spend time with him. He is also haunted by the memories of his childhood growing up with an abusive alcoholic father. When his friend Jack goes on a hunting trip with a wealthy businessman and the latter ends up shot, Wade suspects that it was more than accidental. But how can he keep his sanity when his life is crumbling around him?
Affliction is a tour-de-force of quality acting by Nolte, who definitely deserved the Oscar nomination for his performance. Without Nolte to hold it together, the film would have been a shambles, with an uninteresting story and an underlying "cycle-of-violence" voice-over narrative, which makes the film seem more like a Public Service Announcement than a fictional tale. It would have been more interesting as a character study, but the true message of the film gets buried under subplots galore (the shooting, child custody, his father, his bad tooth, etc.,) none of which are particularly interesting.
Coburn (The Nutty Professor, Hudson Hawk) did score his first Academy Award here, but he should consider that a gift for his body of work, since his performance was not convincing and detracted from Nolte's powerful performance when the two were onscreen together. Affliction is still a worthwhile drama, but lacks the focus needed to ever make it emotionally compelling.
©1999 Vince Leo