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Affliction

Director: Paul Schrader


Affliction represents a return to form by writer-director Paul Schrader, whose recent work has been patchy and uncertain. Russell Bank’s emotionally shattering and semi-autobiographical 1989 novel has inspired Schrader in a way that Elmore Leonard’s Touch failed to do in the director’s previous movie. Bank’s tale of lives destroyed by male violence is ideally suited to Schrader, whose ongoing preoccupation with bruised men who use and abuse violence had already been seen in his screenplays for other directors (Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, The Mosquito Coast) as well as his own fims (Blue Collar, Hardcore).
At the centre of Affliction is Wade Whitehouse, whose life is in a mess and who simply tries to get through each day without screwing up. His relations with his ex-wife, young daughter and current girlfriend (Sissy Spacek) go from bad to worse, his mother dies and then he suspects his friend of murdering a union boss on a hunting trip. To cap it all, he loses his job as a traffic cop and seems set on a collision course for disaster.
The setting is a small New Hampshire town in winter. It’s a cold world, as Schrader has described it, speaking both literally and figuratively about the life depicted in Affliction. Nolte’s Wade Whitehouse appears to be an essentially good man, trying his best to repair his damaged life. But he is afflicted by more than bad luck. A series of stylised flashbacks reveal the terrible violence dealt out by his alcoholic father (James Coburn), whose baleful influence Wade cannot quite escape.
Affliction is a sombre and chilling film. Schrader has moved beyond the indulgent treatment of male violence in his earlier work to provide a far more enlightened perspective. He remains a master storyteller who makes excellent use of voice-over narration. Affliction is further distinguished by great performances from Nolte and Coburn, both of whom are deserving of Oscar consideration.

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