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Last Updated: Wednesday, 21 January, 2004, 11:37 GMT
The Human Stain
The Human Stain
Nicole Kidman and Anthony Hopkins star in the movie The Human Stain, based on an award-winning novel by Philip Roth.

(Edited highlights of the panel's review taken from the teletext subtitles that are generated live for Newsnight Review.)

BONNIE GREER:
This movie is as wrong as it could possibly be. It doesn't deal with what Roth wrote. They have taken the bare spine of this. The narrative structure and come up with, I don't even know what this is, some love story which doesn't address what he was trying to do. First of all, the screen writer, very experienced screen writer, does the screen writers number one capital sin, flashbacks within flashbacks. You don't know where you are. You don't get the great Jewish humour. You don't even get Nathan Zuckerman. It is a very sort of cleaned up sanitised white-bread version of a really great book.

MARK LAWSON:
It is a very visual book, in the sense that the central conceit is a light skinned black man passing himself off as Jewish. Have they visualised it well?

ALKARIM JIVANI:
It looks very pretty. That is part of the problem with it. I think the problem is that they have the wrong director.

MARK LAWSON:
He did Kramer v Kramer.

ALKARIM JIVANI:
There is this ranting voice of Roth you can hear going through the book. You don't get it in the film. Robert Benton is too media mad. It looks wonderful. It looks like a Brooks Brother catalogue come alive. You wish someone would piss on the rug from time to time because it is so nice. Whatever you might think of Phillip Roth, he doesn't do nice. Apart from the miscasting of the director the actors are woefully miscasts. Anthony Hopkins doesn't work in this. Miramax does a film in the run-up to the Oscars almost every year with a big book with big names. The Cider House Rules, Chocolate and this is the latest. They have to have a big name. We have Anthony Hopkins and Nicole Kidman. I can't believe Anthony Hopkins has spent a single day as a black man.

BONNIE GREER:
Or an American.

MARK LAWSON:
In a film about rational identity where you have this man who is black and pretending to be Jewish, nobody says why is he Welsh and living in America. That is a problem. He has a huge energy on screen.

ALKARIM JIVANI:
They try to excuse the accent. In the voice over they say that Coleman Silk has taught in Britain. Nicole Kidman is even worse in casting. She is too thin and too beautiful to work as New England white trash. You can see her thinking to herself; I've done Bloomsbury novelist, what should I do now.

MARK LAWSON:
I disagree.

BONNIE GREER:
She wasn't the character.

GERMAINE GREER:
She wasn't skinny, old for her years. Awkward and all the things she is in the book. A serious criticism of Anthony Hopkins performance is that he does not project his sexual dependency on this woman. You never believe it for a second. Nothing works if you don't believe that. The performance we haven't mentioned which I think is really interesting is Wentworth Miller who is from a mixed rational background. Who looks drop dead gorgeous. Who looks like a Jewish footballer. He doesn't really look mixed blood in that sense.

MARK LAWSON:
I think the book is one of the great modern American novels. The film is not a great film. I thought it was a good film. It has the central plot in Roth that has that tragic force. I thought it had it here.

BONNIE GREER:
You can't believe the film. That is the problem. I know what you are saying. You get these flashbacks. You don't know where you are half of the time. That is a flaw. The screen writer doesn't know where he is.

GERMAINE GREER:
The bigger flaw is that you make the car crash hugely important. In the novel it happens in a page out of 350, it's gone! You start off with the crash. You have to relive the crash. You present the husband, who himself is a victim of another kind of discrimination, which mean that poor boys fight the war that is rich people want to have. You treat him as a psychopathic killer. That is not clear.

BONNIE GREER:
The book is funny. The film is not funny.

MARK LAWSON:
I disagree with a lot of this, I think. A lot of it has survived.


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