Reviewed June 6th, 2003 by David Nusair
When James Coburn won the Oscar for his performance in Affliction, there was no doubt that he deserved it. Though I had not even seen the film at that point, it seemed pretty clear that Coburn had finally been given a role that challenged him. After being stuck in straight-to-video crap and participating in that omnipresent How to Win at Slots infomercial, it seemed as though he was finally going to work his way back in the Hollywood mainstream. And while he's been keeping a fairly low profile since the win, Affliction finally gave Coburn the chance to show everyone he's still got what it takes.
Nick Nolte stars as the sheriff of a small (snowy) town who, as we soon learn, was abused as a child by his father (Coburn). Though it may not seem to be an important detail, Nolte still bears the scars of the years of mistreatment. His dwelling paranoia finds a target in a case of a hunting accident that leaves a prominent businessman dead. Nolte is convinced that this was no accident, and begins to pursue various leads that may or may not exist only in his head. Meanwhile, we begin to get a better understand of what Nolte's life is like; we meet his estranged wife and daughter, and the woman he's now seeing (Sissy Spacek). But most importantly, we discover that Nolte's still got a relationship with his father, whose bitterness has only increased in his old age.
Though Affliction isn't exactly a good movie, it is worth mention due to the fantastic performances by Nolte and Coburn. Playing father and son, the two men don't really look at all like one another, but the pairing works because of the fearful chemistry between them. Nolte is a large man, perhaps bigger than Coburn, but he's still afraid of his aging father and indeed, tends to cower in his presence. Another great performance arrives courtesy of Willem Dafoe, playing Nolte's brother. His character had the good sense to leave the small town as soon as he was able, and seems to be a relatively normal person. Dafoe, in one of his few non-weirdo roles, excels as this outsider who's able to objectively look at the situation and speak candidly about what should happen.
But despite some great performances, Affliction never really takes off. The plodding pace, exacerbated by the lack of a plot, certainly does not help. Though it's based on a novel by Russell Banks, the movie feels as though it would have worked better as a short film. There is just not enough content to fill up over two hours of screen time. While the movie does effectively paint a picture of this small, close-knit town, it never becomes involving enough to sustain interest the whole way through. Though Nolte's performance is certainly one of his best, the character never becomes one that we feel too much sympathy for. His irrational behavior, which has remained beneath the surface but is now out in the open, becomes increasingly more erratic as the film progresses, which makes it difficult for us to care what happens to the man.
Still, movies with performances this good don't tend to come along very often. It's just too bad the story surrounding them isn't quite up to their level.
Audio: This DVD marks the second appearance of Affliction on disc, and the audio soundtrack seems to be identical to the version found on the í99 Universal disc. Surrounds are barely used, but the dialogue is given stellar treatment.
Video: The real reason to upgrade to this disc is the transfer. The Universal version featured the film in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1, but the transfer was not anamorphic. This one is. Itís certainly a vast improvement because of that, and the print seems to have been cleaned up a little as well.
Extras: The prior release contained a silly video trailer for the film, and some production notes. This one contains the actual trailer, along with trailers for Monsterís Ball and Shadow of the Vampire.
Conclusion: Affliction is still a flawed movie, but if youíre a fan, youíll certainly want to upgrade to this disc.
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