Wade Whitehouse - Nick Nolte
len Whitehouse - James Coburn
Meredith - Sissy Spacek
Trent - Willem Dafoe

Director: Willard Carroll

Affliction is a very difficult movie for me write about. Mainly, because it is hard to convey the vision and message of it, in simple words. It is a movie that has to be seen, to be understood, and judged. It is based upon a book though, words have told the story, but words cannot easily describe it.

The basics are as follows. Wade Whitehouse (Nolte) is a small-town boy, grown into a small-town man. The movie conveys small town life very effectively, having grown up in one, I know. All is not peaches and cream; there are underlying dilemmas, which are sometimes buried under an appealing exterior, when examined by outsiders.

Wade’s life is not perfection either, and it shows, in his face, eyes and voice, and in his experiences here. There is a troubled marriage, potentially crooked businessmen, and most prevalent of all, family strife. He, and brother Rolfe (Dafoe) grew up in less than perfect atmosphere. Their father was abusive, both mentally and physically; a victim of a similar upbringing, and years of alcohol abuse. The sons show the scars of this, Wade’s being more obvious. Nolte effectively shows this, his trademark raspy voice was never more fitting, than it is here. He is a man who is tortured inside, on slow burn, just waiting to explode. He is fighting with himself, to not become his father, but it seems inevitable, and he sees this. The inner struggle with himself, while dealing with all the events around him, is the main focus of the movie. The father, as played magnificently by Coburn, is truly an evil man. He is a product of his environment, and sees no reason to change, nor break the chain.

I grew up in a relationship without a father, and I often wondered if it was better to have a bad father, who’s around, and shows some good qualities, or just have no father at all, and no worries, but missing out on a male role model. It is something I have wrestled with, but accepted, that I’d rather be without, this movie just goes farther in emphasizing that fact.

The pacing of this movie is incredibly slow, making me think that, while it’s a story that should be told, the cinema might be the wrong forum to show it in. When using characters to examine the human condition, there are some points, when the words do not transfer well into vision. It’s more of a psychological evaluation and view of things, and those aren’t exactly appealing images either. The director attempts to bridge this gap translation, by adding in narration, which actually steals away some of the visionary magic, by revealing information that could’ve been shown, rather than things that couldn’t. He also attempts to use grainy, older flashbacks, to show the abuse, which works adequately, but is sometimes, a bit over the top. The abuse is shown in the faces and actions of the characters, both abuser, and abused, and by showing us multiple examples, it overkills it a bit much. The key here is not the abuse, but the effects that it has had. When it sticks to that, the movie is at its strongest.

I enjoy watching movies that delve more into the events, rather than the cause, of mental strife in humans. Writer Paul Schrader, who did this effectively in previous efforts, Sweet Hereafter, Raging Bull and Taxi Driver, tries a bit too hard here, but has still made a compelling character study. If you have the patience to wait this one out, it is definitely worth, if for no other reason, than to see Nolte and Coburn, both at their best. ($$$ of $$$$)

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