Eye For Film >> Movies >> Affliction (1997) Film Review
Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray
To call a film literary is to damn it with faint praise. Books are different. They take their time.
Affliction is based on a novel by Canadian Russell Banks, who wrote The Sweet Hereafter. It is a slow-burner. Legendary Scorsese scribe, Paul Schrader, treats the work with reverence and allows Nick Nolte, never the most subtle of actors, to give a performance of astonishing depth.
The affliction of the title is rage. Wade's father (James Coburn), a farmer, beat his wife, clocked the kids when they tried to defend her - it was always Wade, who did so - and drank. He was a monster, still is in his old age, angry and bitter, calling his sons "candy asses" and his daughter a "Jesus freak", because she's born again.
This is upstate New Hampshire, one cold, white winter. Wade (Nolte) is sheriff and part-time snowplougher. "He lived on the edge of his emotions," his brother (Willem Dafoe) explains on the narrative voice-over. "He had nowhere to retreat to, even in a crisis."
The film explores that moment of crisis, which comes after a rich industrialist has been killed in a hunting accident (was it murder?) and his mother dies (was it hypothermia?) and his little girl, who lives with her mum and stepdad, hates visiting him ("I want to go home").
Schrader uses the monochrome landscape to great effect, slowly building a tension, as Wade's life is disabled by an inability to express feeling, tortured by fears and doubt. It is a writer's film, therefore literary, faintly praised. Although the quality of acting is exceptional.Reviewed on: 19 Jan 2001