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(1998) (Nick Nolte, James Coburn) (R)

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Drama: A small town sheriff's life begins to unravel while he investigates a fatal shooting.
Wade Whitehouse (NICK NOLTE) is the sheriff of Lawford, New Hampshire, a small backwoods town where he's little more than the hired help for the local business leaders, including Gordon LaRiviere (HOMES OSBORNE), who relegate him to plowing the snow-covered streets and acting as the school crossing guard.

His resulting low self esteem isn't helped any by the fact that neither his ex-wife Lillian (MARY BETH HURT) nor young daughter Jill (BRIGID TIERNEY) care for his company, or that his elderly alcoholic father, Glen (JAMES COBURN), continues to abuse him, albeit no longer physically.

Thus, when a wealthy businessman is shot and killed during a hunting expedition with Wade's friend, Jack Hewitt (JIM TRUE), the lowly sheriff suddenly has something into which he can sink his teeth. Yet a complication ensues when Wade and his waitress girlfriend, Margie Fogg (SISSY SPACEK), go to visit his parents and discover that his mother is dead, an event that brings his dysfunctional family together, including brother Rolfe (WILLEM DAFOE), who's escaped to Boston where he teaches.

The businessman's shooting, however, can't escape Wade's mind. Prompted by Rolfe's mob- related theories, as well as his own beliefs and a slow descent into madness, Wade tries to solve the mystery while dealing with his personal life that's beginning to completely unravel.

Unless they're fans of someone in the cast, it's highly unlikely.
For violence and language.
  • NICK NOLTE plays a divorced, small town sheriff who smokes, drinks, cusses, and progressively becomes unhinged as his life unravels. He occasionally gets violent, and smokes pot in one scene (despite being the sheriff).
  • JAMES COBURN plays his elderly alcoholic father who physically and mentally abused his children when they were younger, and still does the latter to Wade as an adult.
  • SISSY SPACEK plays Wade's girlfriend who mysteriously stays with Wade longer than one would imagine (and apparently sleeps with him as well).


    OUR TAKE: 7.5 out of 10
    The dictionary defines "affliction" as "a condition (or cause) of pain, suffering, or distress." Not knowing a thing about author Russell Banks or what motivates his dramatic works including the source novel for this film and last year's equally gloomy, "The Sweet Hereafter," I'd hazard a guess that he's afflicted with the memories of some unfortunate or traumatic event that occurred in some bleak, snowy setting in his past.

    Whether he lost too many snowball fights as a child or perhaps had a harrowing experience on a thinly frozen pond or lake, one thing is certain. We can only hope that he lives in some hot, humid and decidedly tropical location that's far removed from the depressing, wintry environs he so perfectly evokes in his works.

    A powerfully bleak, somber and certainly depressing experience, this film could bring down meetings of over-optimists anonymous and even put motivational gurus like Anthony Robbins into a funk. Immediately after seeing the film you'll know exactly what I mean and you'll definitely leave the theater with a bitterly unpleasant taste in your mouth.

    Despite all of that, however, and with a little distance and time away from the movie, it becomes much easier to admire the film and how its story unfolds, the tremendous performances from its two leading men, and overall just how good a picture it really is.

    That doesn't mean it will make the experience any more enjoyable or entertaining -- those are two words clearly not associated with this picture -- and it's highly unlikely anyone would return to see it a second time. Nevertheless, you'll certainly find yourself acknowledging how powerful a film you've just experienced.

    Like "The Sweet Hereafter," this picture revolves around the investigation of a fatal accident in a small town, as well as the shattered lives of those involved. Unlike that excellent Atom Egoyan film, however, the damage here was done long before the accidental death.

    As such, the investigation into the incident is more superficial than structurally sound, and becomes more symbolic of the story's deeper exploration into the protagonist's already ruined and progressively unraveling life.

    That structure may bother some murder mystery oriented viewers, and I initially found myself somewhat frustrated by the slow-moving plot, the occasional and certainly unnecessary voice over narration (supplied by Willem Dafoe and clearly a lingering trace of material from the original novel), and the protagonist's rather lackluster investigation into the shooting.

    Clearly not a satisfactory murder mystery story, or even a conventionally plotted movie at that, it's not until one realizes that the film isn't particularly interested in the shooting or the subsequent investigation (which is hinted at quite strongly by the odd and lackadaisical approach taken by every character regarding it), that one begins to appreciate the story.

    To convincingly pull that off, however, one needs a cast of talented performers who can lure in the viewer with their believable performances. Fortunately for writer/director Paul Schrader (director of "American Gigolo," "Cat People" and the writer of "Raging Bull" and "The Mosquito Coast"), he's extracted/forced/encouraged what are probably the best performances from his two leading men in their long careers.

    Toning down his stereotypical gruff and gravely voice and persona, Nick Nolte ("The Thin Red Line," an Oscar nominee for "The Prince of Tides"), delivers a powerful and shattering performance as a man desperately trying to grasp the last vestiges of his pride and sanity while continuing to slip ever deeper into despair and madness. With what should be another Oscar nominated performance (this review was written before the nomination announcements), Nolte proves (along with his strong role in "The Thin Red Line" and other earlier films) that he's an acting force with which to be reckoned.

    The same holds true for James Coburn ("Eraser," "Our Man Flint"), who clearly delivers the best performance of his career that spans an amazing four decades. Always something of a cultish favorite, Coburn's never seemed to tackle extremely demanding parts, but this one certainly bucks that trend. By playing the near monstrous alcoholic father with such energy and believable meanspirited nastiness, Coburn may go down as having inhabited one of the most villainous cinematic creations to date.

    The supporting performances are all decent, but despite their collective acting experience, neither Sissy Spacek ("Blast From the Past," "Coal Miner's Daughter") nor Willem Dafoe ("The English Patient," "Mississippi Burning") can climb their way out of the deep shadows cast by their more prominently seen co-stars and their exceptionally outstanding performances.

    All of which leads to giving the film an artistic rating, which is nothing less than difficult when trying to balance the great acting with the bleak and unsavory aura that permeates the film. Much like our reaction to "Leaving Las Vegas," we can't give this film a tremendous rating simply because it's not very entertaining.

    While there's clearly no law that says a film must cause some sort of favorable reaction among moviegoers, a bleak and depressing film -- especially one as powerful as this -- isn't that much "fun" to watch. Unless a picture is utterly brilliant and entertaining on different levels (like last year's "Saving Private Ryan"), it's hard to get too enthusiastic about a film and give it a high rating.

    Nonetheless, considering the feeling one has several days after seeing this picture, and despite a murder mystery plot that's more bluff than realized potential, the film is quite good and features Oscar worthy performances from the leading cast members. As such, we give "Affliction" a 7.5 out of 10.

    Here's a quick summary of the content found in this R-rated film. Profanity is extreme with 30+ "f" words, some others, as well as religious and "colorful" phrases. A good amount of drinking occurs (with one character apparently an alcoholic), and several characters share a marijuana joint in one scene.

    Several violent deaths occur, as does some domestic and other acts of violence. Bad attitudes abound (considering the abusive behavior of several characters), a sexual encounter is implied, and thematic elements concerning divorce and domestic abuse are also present.

    Although it's highly unlikely that many kids will want to see this picture, you may want to take a closer look at what's been listed should you still be concerned with the film's appropriateness for anyone in your home.

  • Wade takes a swig of liquor from a bottle his friend offers him (who then also takes a swig).
  • Jack and a female acquaintance smoke a joint. Wade sees this and tells him to get rid of it, but Jack keeps offering it to him. He eventually accepts, but only after they drive away from town (and we then see Wade smoking it).
  • Wade has a beer in a bar (where others also drink).
  • In several flashbacks we see Glen drinking and/or drunk.
  • Wade brings beers for Margie and himself.
  • Glen has a drink.
  • Wade opens another beer after finishing one.
  • Glen drinks again.
  • Wade finds a bottle of liquor in his father's truck and then takes repeated drinks from it.
  • Glen has a drink.
  • Wade uses liquor as an antiseptic before and after pulling out his own tooth with a pair of pliers.
  • Wade and his father drink together.
  • Wade drinks a beer while driving with his daughter (he even continues after she points out that what he's doing is illegal).
  • Wade drinks again.
  • We see a little bit of blood after Wade pulls out his own tooth with a pair of pliers.
  • We see a dead woman (but other than being dead, there's no blood or gore).
  • Jill's nose is a tiny bit bloody after Wade punches her.
  • We briefly see a dead body that's fully engulfed in flames.
  • Wade has both for driving away his family with his errant behavior, as well as for the way he treats nearly everyone else.
  • Glen has both for simply being a domineering, meanspirited man who abuses everyone with whom he comes into contact.
  • A man drives through a school bus stop, and then refuses to accept Wade's summons, stating that he could get him fired if he so desired.
  • Some may not appreciate the exchange between Rolfe and his sister (characterized as a Bible banger) when she asks if he's "saved." He states that he's not, she says he'll then go to Hell, and he replies that's okay since the rest of the family will be there with him. The same holds true for Glen's disgusted attitude toward his daughter and her religious beliefs.
  • Glen pats Margie on her butt.
  • Some flashback scenes showing Glen being threatening or abusive to his kids may be tense to some viewers.
  • Wade chases after Jack (both in their trucks on a dark, snowy night) and eventually confronts him face to face. Jack pulls out his rifle, threatens Wade, and then shoots out his front tires and puts a bullet through his windshield before driving off.
  • We see Wade pull out his own tooth with a pair of pliers.
  • A man hits another man on the head with a bottle, causing that man to strike the first across the face with the butt of his rifle. That man then prepares to shoot the other, and even pulls the trigger, but the gun is empty (he knew this). However, the other man has died from the blow. Consequently, the survivor pours gasoline over the body, sets him on fire and lets him, and the barn they're in, burn to the ground.
  • Hunting Rifles: Carried by Jack and a businessman, the latter of whom gets shot and killed by one. In various imagined scenes thereafter we see Jack or other people shooting and killing the businessman.
  • Later, Jack uses one to shoot out the tires and windshield of the truck Wade's driving.
  • Rifle: Used by one man to strike another and then act like he's going to shoot him.
  • Phrases: "Go f*ck yourself," "Screw(ed) up," "Hard ass," "Bastard," "Sucks," "Pisser," "Pissed," "Nuts" (crazy), "Candy asses," "Piss you off" and "Geez."
  • Wade gives a man the "'f' you" sign with his hand and arm.
  • Glen spits in Wade's face (after his son tells him he wishes that it were he who had died).
  • We see Wade pull out his own tooth with a pair of pliers.
  • None.
  • A moderate amount of ominous and tension-filled music occurs during the film.
  • None.
  • At least 34 "f" words, 20 "s" words, 1 slang term for male genitals ("pr*ck"), 1 slang term for breasts ("t*t"), 15 hells, 10 damns, 10 S.O.B.'s, 7 asses (3 used with "hole"), and 22 uses of "G- damn," 11 of "Jesus," 6 of "For Christ's sakes," 4 of "Oh Jesus," 3 of "God" and 1 use each of "By God," "Oh God," "Oh Lord," "For God's sakes" and "Oh Christ" as exclamations.
  • Wade joking tells Margie to be careful about a man because "he's dying to get inside your pants."
  • We see Wade and Margie in bed together, apparently after having had sex (they're under the covers and both appear to be clothed, but Wade does make a comment on how she looks "after making love").
  • A lawyer tells Wade that it would be to his legal benefit if his wife had any sort of "sexual problems."
  • Wade smokes quite often throughout the film, while Jack smokes once and some people in a bar also smoke.
  • Wade and his wife are divorced, and his daughter Jill hates to visit him (and this gets worse as the story progresses).
  • We see several flashback scenes where a drinking and/or drunk Glen domineers and/or threatens his kids. In one, we see Glen push his wife, causing their boys to intervene. In turn, Glen strikes one of them.
  • Wade discovers that his mother has died, and we then see a funeral scene and family members' reactions regarding that.
  • Wade and Glen don't get along in the present, and in one scene, Wade tells him that he wishes Glen had died instead of his mother.
  • Divorced parents and kids who have to visit the one with which they don't live and/or like.
  • Domestic and child abuse, and how it affects the victims.
  • Jill asks her dad if he did "bad" or mischievous things when he was a kid (it's something your kids might ask you).
  • Upset that Jill is leaving with her mother and another man, Wade rushes up to that man as he opens their car door and nearly attacks him, but only knocks the man's hat from his hand.
  • We learn that a businessman who went hunting with Jack was shot and killed. Throughout various parts of the movie, we see imagined scenarios where Jack shoots the man, another man shoots the man, or he's shot during an accident.
  • In a flashback we see Glen push his wife, causing their boys to intervene. In turn, Glen strikes one of them.
  • Wade pushes his father against the wall and threatens to kill him if he touches a woman again.
  • Wade chases after Jack (both in their trucks on a dark, snowy night) and eventually confronts him face to face. Jack pulls out his rifle, threatens Wade, and then shoots out his front tires and puts a bullet through his windshield before driving off.
  • Wade knocks everything off Gordon's desk and then flips it over in anger. He also throws and hits Gordon with his keys, and then he and Jack push each other around in Gordon's office.
  • In a sudden fit of anger, Wade grabs a restaurant manager and violently pins him to the counter.
  • After Jill jumps on top of Wade trying to get him to leave Margie alone, Wade punches his daughter in the face.
  • A man hits another man on the head with a bottle, causing that man to strike the first across the face with the butt of his rifle. That man then prepares to shoot the other, and even pulls the trigger, but the gun is empty (he knew this). However, the other man has died from the blow. Consequently, the survivor pours gasoline over the body, sets him on fire and lets him, and the barn they're in, burn to the ground.

  • Reviewed February 3, 1999 / Posted on February 12, 1999

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