Affliction (1998)

Directed by Paul Schrader
Written by Paul Schrader, based upon the novel by Russell Banks
Starring Nick Nolte, James Coburn, Sissy Spacek, Willem Dafoe, Mary Beth Hurt

My Advice: Wait for MST3K.

Wade Whitehouse (Nolte, and doesn't THAT character have an interesting last name) is the local security guard, I mean rentacop, I mean law enforcement.  He's not the nicest of men since he'd rather hop in your car and smoke some illicit substances with you than arrest you for having them.  He's got a daughter (Brigid Tierney) who doesn't want to be around him, ex-wife (Hurt) who wonders what she ever saw in him, and a father (Coburn) who still holds him in a vice grip of terror.  When he stumbles onto a conspiracy of businessmen in his hometown that involves money and murder, he risks alienating his girlfriend (Spacek) trying to divulge the truth.  If he could only keep from beating the crap out of everyone and take care of his toothache in the process.

Sounds interesting, right?  Well, it would be but for a fatal flaw.  Willem Dafoe plays Wade's brother, and in a voiceover at the very beginning of the film he tells us how the film is going to end.  In different words of course, he says, "This is the story of my brother, who went batshit whacko."  Thus any suspense that could have been established by Nolte's slow descent becomes simply...slow, since we know he's doomed from the first thirty seconds.  Thus also the sideplot with the conspiracy is relegated to time-consuming nonsense, since we know it can't be true since the one person who believes it is going nuts.  What makes me very angry about the whole thing is that there's a scene in which Nolte, having driven everyone away who could possibly care about him, sits down next to father, and they sit down exactly the same way, body language and all.  It could have been chilling if we hadn't expected it, but thanks to the opening we sigh with relief knowing the end of the movie must be nigh.  The insult is furthered by the fact a voiceover closes out the film, telling us exactly what we've just seen and also what we should think about it.  It almost seems like we've watched what would have been a documentary on Lifetime or something.

Now let me say this right here--I think that the movie's subject matter is admirable--the cycle of domestic violence and how if left unchecked, it will never end.  I do, however, take great affront to a film that doesn't trust me to make up my own mind about something.  Other than that, the performances by Nolte and Coburn are well enough, considering they're doing nothing but being pissed off for two hours.  The rest of the cast could have been virtually interchangable with any actor or actress.  A terrible waste of a cast, script, and my time.

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