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Affliction

Director:  Paul Schrader
Year Released:  1998
Rating:  2.0

Paul Schrader’s film of Russell Banks’ novel is set in a small town during its coldest and snowiest winter months. It revolves around Wade, played by Nick Nolte, a man who lived with an abusive father all his life, drinks heavily, and is suffering from a lot of inner torment. The father character, played by James Coburn (who won an undeserved Oscar) is an alcoholic louse who beats his kids, his wife, makes remarkably stupid comments and knows how to growl on cue. I’ve seen rabid dogs give similar performances – but they don’t walk home with Academy Awards – they get put to sleep. Nolte’s girlfriend (Sissy Spacek) and brother (Willem Dafoe – who does some the unnecessary and puzzling voice-overs) don’t get a lot of screen time – it’s mostly Nolte’s show. Unfortunately, the script doesn’t spend enough time pondering his situation … it gets a little too side-tracked worrying about a murder that may or may-not have occurred and the possible conspirators behind it. It should have spent that time delving more into why Nolte’s getting divorced, what’s going on in his head, and what’s his relationship like with his brother. Other puzzling things: why does Nolte want custody of his daughter, who is annoying, unsympathetic and moody (when he eventually knocks her over at the end, I cheered) and also, why is the ending so quickly tied together?

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