Sunday, September 16, 2018
Based on the novel by Russell Banks, Affliction is the story of a small-town policeman who investigate a fatal hunting accident as he deals with his own issues in his family including his ex-wife and his domineering father. Written for the screen and directed by Paul Schrader, the film is the study of a man becoming obsessed with trying to solve an accident while dealing with the history of violence from his family including his own troubled relationship with his father. Starring Nick Nolte, Sissy Spacek, Willem Dafoe, Jim True-Frost, Mary Beth Hurt, and James Coburn. Affliction is a harrowing yet mesmerizing film from Paul Schrader.
Set in a small town in New Hampshire, the film revolves around a man who investigates a hunting accident at the woods nearby where it raises questions about what happened just as the man is starting to unravel through his theories as well as his own behavior in relation to his father. It’s a film that is really the study of a man who is extremely flawed in what he does as a local cop as well as a father and as a man who is having a hard time trying to be a good person while bearing the dark persona of his father. Paul Schrader’s screenplay follows the life of Wade Whitehouse (Nick Nolte) who is a local police officer that works for the local town selectman in Gordon LaRiviere (Holmes Osborne) as he is divorced and dealing with this detachment from the fact that he carries some of the abusive behavior of his father Glen (James Coburn) which he is in denial of.
While the narrative follows many of the activities of Wade, it is told partially through his younger brother Rolfe (Willem Dafoe) who doesn’t appear in the film until its second act. Rolfe is aware of the abuse that his father instilled on Wade, himself, and their other siblings as he is the one who only appears briefly during its second act as his character lives in another town and having a life completely different from his father and older brother. Still, Rolfe’s narration does provide some insight into Wade and coming to terms with the abuse their father had done as it would seep into Wade as it relates to his relationship with his daughter Jill (Brigid Tierney) whom he unknowingly neglects and tries to win over as he has a lot of bitterness towards his ex-wife Lillian (Mary Beth Hurt). While Wade tries to attempt to create a normal life with girlfriend Margie Fogg (Sissy Spacek), he would unfortunately introduce her to his father as she would watch over him as it becomes overwhelming just as Wade’s attempt to investigate the hunting accidents starts to become troubling.
Schrader’s direction is understated in its presentation as he aims to capture life in a small town in New Hampshire during the Halloween period though it’s snowy as it is shot mainly on location in Quebec. While Schrader would use some wide shots for some of the locations including a few of the mountains in the background as well as the intimacy of the small town. Much of Schrader’s direction emphasizes on close-ups and medium shots as it play into the way Wade would interact with other characters as well as scenes with his father where it is clear there is still a sense of fear whenever Wade is being seen from his father’s perspective. The direction also would have Schrader create different perspectives of what Wade is thinking about as it relates to the accident that involved his friend Jack Hewitt (Jim True-Frost) who was accompanying one of the rich locals in Nick Wickham (Wayne Robson) for a deer hunt. Even as Rolfe would provide Wade an idea of what might’ve happened as it add to Wade’s sense of paranoia.
Schrader also uses these haunting flashback scenes shot in grainy film stock that show Wade and Rolfe as kids and the terror they endured around their father who is a full-blown alcoholic with a lot of disdain for the world. Even during the film’s second act following an event that would bring Rolfe back to town along with his other siblings as it shows a man who could care less about what just happened as well as how he presents himself in front of his children. The third act has Schrader play into this man unraveling and dealing with the fact that he is like his father in the way he drinks heavily as well as becoming unruly towards those he works for and those he is friendly with. The film’s final moments isn’t just this revelation for Wade about his father but also in the fact that he will never escape his father’s cruelty as well as the actions he would later commit that would hurt those who are close to him. Overall, Schrader crafts an eerie yet riveting film about a man coming to terms with himself and his father’s abuse towards him.
Cinematographer Paul Sarossy does brilliant work with the film’s cinematography from the usage of snow and naturalistic photography for many of the daytime exterior scenes to the usage of low-key lights for some of the interior/exterior scenes at night. Editor Jay Rabinowitz does excellent work with the editing as it include a few montages in the flashbacks as well as what Wade sees in the hunting accident along with some stylish rhythmic cuts to play into the drama. Production designer Anne Pritchard and art director Michel Beaudet do fantastic work with the look of the place where Wade works at as well as the diner her frequents and the home where his father lives in its messy look.
Costume designer Francois Laplante does terrific work with the costumes as it is largely casual to play into the look of the winter with its heavy coats as well as the Halloween costumes the kids wear early in the film. Sound editor Tony Martinez does superb work with the sound as it play into the atmosphere of the locations including the sounds of winds and cars on the snow. The film’s music by Michael Brook is wonderful for its mixture of folk and ambient music to play into the drama as well as some of the intense moments of the film.
The casting by Ellen Chenoweth and Kathleen Chopin is great as it feature small roles from Marian Seldes as a local who keeps track of financial records as she revealed some things to Wade about LaRiviere, Wayne Robson as Nick Wickham who would go on a hunt that lead to a horrible accident, Joanna Noyes as Wade and Rolfe’s mother in the flashbacks, Brawley Nolte as the young Wade, Michael Caloz as the young Rolfe, Christopher Heyerdahl as the diner owner Frankie, and Brigid Tierney as Wade’s daughter Jill who is often unhappy around her father due to his neglect and not really being there for her. Jim True-Frost is terrific as the local hunting guide Jack Hewitt who would guide Wickham for a hunt that would turn tragic. Holmes Osborne is superb as Gordon LaRiviere as the town selectman who is trying to run things while is also doing some business that would make him rich much to Wade’s suspicions.
Mary Beth Hurt is fantastic as Wade’s ex-wife Lillian who still has issues with Wade as she is aware of his neglect towards their daughter while reluctant in having Wade be around her. Willem Dafoe is excellent in his brief performance as Wade’s younger brother Rolfe as a man who briefly returns home to deal with a family matter as he is aware of what is going on as it’s an understated performance that has Dafoe be aware of the abuse he’s endured but also with an acceptance over the persona of his father. Sissy Spacek is brilliant as Margie Fogg as the diner waitress who is also Wade’s girlfriend as she is aware of Wade’s issues while getting to know Glen closer than she expected which makes her uncomfortable as she is trying to get Wade to get away from his father.
James Coburn is phenomenal in a monstrous performance as Glen Whitehouse as Wade and Rolfe’s alcoholic and abusive father. Coburn displays this physicality as someone who lords over those who he feels are weak as there is an element of him that is filled with hate but also seems to have a dark glee in the way he conveys this idea of masculinity and power as it is a career-defining performance from Coburn. Finally, there’s Nick Nolte in an incredible performance as Wade Whitehouse as a local cop who is investigating a hunting accident thinking it’s not an accident where he would later unravel into his own thoughts as well as his relationship with his father that is complicated and filled with fear as it’s an eerie and chilling performance Nolte in one of his career-best roles to date.
Affliction is a tremendous film from Paul Schrader that features great performances from Nick Nolte and James Coburn. Along with its supporting cast, gorgeous visuals, haunting music, and study of abuse and identity. It’s a film that explore a man unraveling as he deals with the fact that he inherits some of his father’s dark attributes as well as the dark history of his family. In the end, Affliction is an outstanding film from Paul Schrader.
Paul Schrader Films: Blue Collar - Hardcore – American Gigolo - Cat People (1982 film) - Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters – (Light of Day) – (Patty Hearst) – (The Comfort of Strangers) – (Light Sleeper) – (Witch Hunt) – (Touch) – (Forever Mine) – (Auto Focus) – (Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist) – (The Walker) – (Adam Resurrected) – (The Canyons) – Dying of the Light – (Dog Eat Dog) – First Reformed - (The Card Counter)
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