(out of 5)
Anthony Hopkins practically sleepwalks through his performance as a literature professor who is forced into retirement after more than thirty years of devotion to his college, following a comment regarding one of his students being interpreted as racist by the school’s governing board. Deciding to stay home and work on an anger-inspired novel, he befriends a reclusive novelist and falls into a obsessively sexual affair with a janitor (Nicole Kidman) who is escaping a dark past. Her secrets, however, have nothing on what we learn about Hopkins through flashbacks that harken back to his youth, with an excellent Wentworth Miller playing the younger version of him. This film deals quite elegantly with many hot topics that affect North American society, including racism, misplaced political correctness and classism. Unfortunately, Robert Benton’s direction is too coldhearted and the story never manages to come to a full boil; the characters are wonderful and encourage you to want to get to know them better, but they’re always kept at arm’s length by a screenplay that is more concerned with being tasteful and artistic than passionate or personal. Like Hopkins, Kidman gives a strong performance in the kind of role that should be a walk in the park for her by now. In reality, of course, acting never is that easy, and it’s Benton’s fault in all the actors’ cases for making their work seem so unimportant instead of effortless.
Directed by Robert Benton
Cinematography by Jean-Yves Escoffier
Music by Rachel Portman
Production Design by David Gropman
Costume Design by Rita Ryack
Film Editing by Christopher Tellefsen