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IN SHORT: Portrait of a man in dissolution. [Rated R. 110 minutes]
The sins of the fathers may be passed on to the sons, but when all that they leave behind are incomplete stories enacted by more than competent actors, Cranky wonders what the point is supposed to be. Yeah, I know damn well what time of year it is and how all the kick ass heavy dramas and superior performances are held back in the Oscar® wannabe race, but Cranky does not like wasting his time watching good actors trying to make silk out of incomplete and open ended stories which is what director Paul Schrader has inflicted on us.
The film is called Affliction, and in it lead Nick Nolte sinks his teeth into a more than interesting character. Divorced, well into midlife crisis and settled in a tiny New Hampshire town, Wade Whithouse (Nolte) spends his time as local cop, school monitor and, in the off hours, well digger. This one-horse town is well controlled by a real estate developer named Gordon LaRiviere (Holmes Osborne) who "takes care" of his people. LaRiviere is the number one employer, number one politician, in Yiddish words he'd be called a gonstermacher, which means "big man." It's not a nice title.
Wade's daughter Jill (Brigid Tierney) prefers the company of her mom and stepdad, and everyone is scared of Wade's father. Usually drunk, physically abusive to wife and kids, Pop (James Coburn) is the piece of gravel permanently stuck in Wade's emotional shoe. We see grainy flashback scenes of a youthful pop beating up on his kids. We meet an elder pop who delivers his abuse in much different ways. Wade's brother Rolfe (Willem DaFoe) has left town to become a teacher and tells the story in voiceover narration. Remaining characters include Nick's girlfriend Margie (Sissy Spacek) and his much younger best friend Jack (Jim True), an ex-AAA ballplayer whose arm went bad.
It's the classic portrait of a man on the edge. With a rotten tooth in his mouth and no money in his pocket, Wade still yearns for the American dream of wife in the house, daughter in her room and dad long out of his life. There are many ways out of desperate situations and while Affliction doesn't mine old territory, it doesn't break any new ground.
Truth is, folks, Cranky hates writing reviews like this. All the performances are fine. All the characters are well developed and the situations that play out, for the most part, are not forced. Nolte's character is in a truly emasculated position, for when a local bigwig is accidentally killed in a hunting accident, he is essentially told to look the other way. But it's mid-winter in a snow blocked northern town and the mind tends to fantasize all sorts of conspiracies. As other bits and pieces of his life fall out of place concurrently, Wade's life goes to Hell.
Schrader's film doesn't carry the emotional impact it should. Affliction must have been a damn good book, 'cuz there's plenty of story and background to make a damn fine movie present. The script fails to develop any of the ideas.
The problem with Affliction is one which has bothered Cranky all his life. I don't like stories that don't have an ending. Stories that leave enough of a hole that you have lots of room for discussion and speculation. It's even worse when the writer, as is the case here, deliberately says that they have nothing but an assumption as to what happened.
Almost as an afterthought we learn that an important supporting character has been killed by one of the principals. Does it have a great effect on the story we've just seen? Nope. Stories are over and the murder is just part of an epilog. When the whole point of the piece is to show the total breakdown of the principal character and the effect on everything around him, you as a ticket buy shouldn't have to figure it all out after you've left the theater.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Affliction, he would have paid...
Wait and rent. Cranky didn't like this kind of storytelling in film school. He doesn't like it any better as a consumer.
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