Movie Review: 'The Human Stain' (2003) Starring Nicole Kidman

Entertainment to Get Deeply Depressed By

The Human Stain

Two fine actors – Nicole Kidman and Anthony Hopkins – try to generate a little sexual chemistry in The Human Stain, directed by Oscar-winning director Robert Benton and based on the Philip Roth novel published in 2000. Of course, the key word in that preceding sentence is "try," because the film does not succeed.

Adapted from Pulitzer Prize-winner Roth’s critically acclaimed work, The Human Stain is the emotionally wrenching story of Professor Coleman Silk (Anthony Hopkins), a tormented man who lives in a self-imposed state of denial.

After decades of teaching, Silk makes an unfortunate comment that’s taken as a racial slur. Forced from his job by the powers that be, a lonely and dejected Silk turns to writer Nathan Zuckerman (Gary Sinise) for help with writing a novel. A companionable relationship quickly forms between the two men, with Silk opening up far more with Zuckerman than with most of the people he has encountered in his life. Yet the one big secret he fights to protect stays concealed, even from this man who becomes his closest friend and confidante.

Silk’s world is further knocked off-kilter when he becomes involved in a tumultuous relationship with the much younger Faunia Farley (Nicole Kidman). Faunia has left behind her abusive stepfather, escaped a vicious marriage, and had loved ones ripped from her in tragic circumstances. Beat down by life, she takes menial jobs and does not expect much good fortune to cross her path.

When her car breaks down for the umpteenth time, the stranded Faunia hitches a ride with Coleman Silk, a chance meeting that leads to a life-altering affair for both parties.

Even glammed down, Nicole Kidman’s beauty is a distraction in her role as a vagabond janitor whose life is full of heartbreak and misery.

When her character first meets Anthony Hopkins’ character and after speaking with him for a total of five minutes, she invites him into her rented room and is found lying naked waiting for him after his initial declination of the offer. Of course, an audible groan escaped me. She’s Nicole Kidman for God’s sake! You can’t try and pass off the beautiful Nicole Kidman -- even shabbily dressed -- as the sexual aggressor in a relationship with the much-older and far less attractive Anthony Hopkins. At least not in this case -- this wasn't an instance of a complete physical transformation like Charlize Theron in Monster.

I admire Kidman. She makes brave choices and is phenomenal in unexpected ways, but The Human Stain is a perfect case of the part just not being the right fit for the actress. I could never get out of my head that that was the actress Nicole Kidman up there. That’s never happened to me when watching Kidman in any other film, but this role wasn’t meant for someone as refined and classy-looking as this Academy Award-winning actress.

Anthony Hopkins is at his best as the professor who hides a secret for most of his adult life. Hopkins mixes intelligence, charm, and sorrow and comes up with yet another memorable character to add to his already long list of credits.

Working opposite Anthony Hopkins must be a daunting task for any actor. Gary Sinise shares most of his screen time with Hopkins and manages to grab scene after scene. Sinise gives the film its human touch, providing the one character audience members can relate to and empathize with.

The film is saturated in gray tones and neutral colors, adding another layer to the overwhelming feeling of depression that lingers throughout every frame. Kidman, Hopkins, and Sinise cannot be faulted for the film’s failure to connect. The story is not readily accessible to audiences, and the final product leaves you feeling empty.


The Human Stain was directed by Robert Benton and is rated R for language and sexuality/nudity.

Edited by Christopher McKittrick