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Affliction
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26 of 31 people found the following review helpful
on January 3, 2004
I saw this movie several years ago and it has stayed with me ever since. Whenever I think about the truly great films I've seen, and would like to see again, this one always makes the list as great, but I have avoided watching it again because, depending upon your childhood, it is extremely disturbing. Beware anyone who has experienced life with an abusive parent, you will see the fear and despair come to life before your eyes. James Coburn and Nick Nolte portray this type of hellish relationship with stunning realism. I have read reviews from those who, apparently, couldn't really believe that parents and children could have such a relationship. Not so, friends. This is a scathing, searing, film -- with no bullets or exploding cars. You have been warned.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on December 19, 2004
This is a truly great movie. What is going to make people either love or hate it is that it is unflinchingly real. This one EXUDES realism. It's for those of us who don't love life and aren't really happy about our present situation. It's for anyone who has ever been humiliated, frustrated and ready to lash out at the miserable world. It's bleak-just like life. Nolte and Coburn have never been and probably never will be better. The writing is superb. There are so many lines that ring true. If your favorite song is "Don't Worry, Be Happy" then you might want to skip this one. For everyone else, I suggest that you savor this classic immediately.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on August 21, 1999
Paul Schrader wrote and directed this engrossing drama of one man's self-destruction. Nick Nolte plays Wade Whitehouse, the small-town sheriff who is simultaneously the employee of the town's leading contractor. Whitehouse is basically an ignorant man, proud and tough on the outside, but still hurting from the abuse he suffered as a child from his father (James Coburn in a superbly vicious performance that won him an Oscar). The film covers the events that occur to Whitehouse during a couple of weeks in late October and November, when his life collapses around him. Nolte gives an excellent performance as the self-destructive man, persuasively playing his need to express himself and the consequences of his inability to do so. When the film centers around his relationships with his ex-wife, daughter, father, and girl-friend (Sissy Spacek, in a nice understated performance), the film scores a bulls-eye; Nolte's inability to communicate and his mounting frustration and anger are almost palpable. When it drifts into a story about the possible murder of a wealthy, mob-connected hunter and Nolte's investigation, the film becomes increasingly incoherent. It's also not helped by the dour presence and voice-over of Willem Dafoe as Nolte's brother, another victim of the family's cycle of violence. The key scene in which Dafoe--supposedly the smart one of the family--spurs on Nolte's paranoia with suggestions that the dead hunter was murdered by Nolte's friend and co-worker is a particular mess, and the final voice-over in which Dafoe laments the cost of the generations of violence needlessly spells out what we've already learned. There's another unfortunate scene in which Nolte's born-again sister attends a family funeral: why is it that so many religious characters on screen have to be such fools? Can't some religious people just connect with those around them, be supportive, caring, and intelligible? The film's technical credits are strong, particularly the cinematography and art direction which re-create the bleak yet stunning winter countryside of New Hampshire (thanks to Canada).
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on November 24, 2002
The movie starts with Wade Whitehouse bringing his daughter to a small town Halloween party. The distance between the two is apparent and about to get worse. They arrive, daughter dressed as a tiger, Wade dressed as a cop. He is a child dressed as a man. The daughter is out of place and unhappy, making this known to Wade. Facing a challenge that is beyond him, he steps outside where he is pulled into the life of some younger people, driving around town, getting stoned and being generally small-town.
Why does Wade shy away from being a man? Because his definition of a man is his father, an abusive and alcoholic ogre. Wade has found peace in being a parody of an adult. He can hang with kids just shy of high school because he has not permitted himself to grow any older than just-short-of-manhood. He is pathetic, but he is also very amiable. He could live his whole life this way. That is, he could if he hadn't already committed to fatherhood and if the new love of his life didn't expect a bit more.
His new love, Marge, is a small town woman through and through. Perhaps she has been passed around a bit, but she has a good heart. She seems barely content with drifting through life, staying just short of ambitious. Perhaps she'll marry her bear-cub boyfriend Wade and have a family while she can. Perhaps not. She is smarter than Wade, but he is fun and harmless, it seems.
Wade's brother, Rolfe, is the kid who managed to avoid the blows of his father. He is the smart one. Smart enough to stay far enough away from his father, smart enough to distract himself from the ruins of abuse with intellectual pursuits. His intelligence bought him a way out. He is committed only to himself.
Exposing his own aggression, Rolfe plants seeds in Wade that will soon be Wade's undoing. To Rolfe, it's all a bit fun. When he's back in his home-town, he returns to a role. He and Wade are kids up to no good. They are sleuths, unlocking the truth of the grown-ups. There is no risk to Rolfe since his brother has and will be the shield.
Wade's role is stressed in a series of events. He has been powerless in keeping his family together. His ex-wife outgrew him and has moved on. He is powerless against even the will of his daughter. He has not seemed to even notice that she is not 6 anymore, and that she has begun to recognize his shortcomings. All this, he must change.
He had been handed the role of a cop, not for merit, but for obedience to the town's owners. This must change.
His father has become incompetent and might have even let his mother die from exposure. Wade becomes the head of the household and thus launches his new interest in a commanding role. But a commanding role requires a man. For Wade, a man is a monster. Needless to say, it doesn't go well for Wade and all who surround him.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
Based on a novel by Russell Banks who also wrote "The Sweet Hereafter", and directed by Paul Schrader of "Raging Bull" and "The Mosquito Coast" fame, the winter landscape and cold bleakness of the town sets the tone for this exploration of the dark legacy of what it is to be a man.
Nick Nolte stars in this dark story of a the lone policeman in a small New Hampshire town investigating a hunting accident. He is divorced and trying and to get custody of his young daughter who rejects his fumbling efforts to be nice to her. James Coburn is excellent as Nick Nolte's father, a brutal and angry old man who typifies a sick machismo which has in turn afflicted his son. His acting is extraordinary as is Nolte's although their styles are different. Noltle is subtle; his facial expressions are controlled and typical of a man who has learned to hold in emotion. Coburn's face, on the other hand, is more deeply expressive; his eyebrows move, his mouth hardens, his eyes glare.
This is the kind of dark, brooding movie that I like. For a brief few hours I enter its world and get completely absorbed in the characters in the way I did with "A thousand Acres" or "The Horse Whisperers". Like these films, there are no easy answers and the conclusion does not wrap up in a neat little Hollywood package that is soon forgotten. Recommended.
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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on August 30, 2010
This is a well made film and I really wanted to like it. Nick Nolte is a favorite and he certainly delivers a powerfull, deeply human performance here. James Coburn is perfect as his truly odious abusive father. Nolte has a way of making his characters sympathetic even when they are doing horrible things. We can see from the opening scene, a Halloween party where he tries to amuse his daughter, that the guy is trying to do the right thing but that he's never going to make it. He has the "affliction" and nothing he does works out.

From this unhappy start things only get worse. That's the problem with the film--there's no contrast between light and dark, tragedy and happiness. No one grows, develops, changes. I'm not saying that every film has to have a happy ending but just watching someone go down and down before your eyes isn't worth watching. Yes, it makes the point---that abusive fathers breed flawed children--but this is hardly news.

Some good actors are wasted. Sissy Spacek didn't seem right for the part. I kept wondering what such a nice girl saw in this train wreck of a guy. Willem Dafoe, who has done a lot of good work, just seems creepy here and his role as the omnipotent teller of the tale doesn't quite work for me.

Nolte's rivetting performance kept me watching. Maybe that was the problem; he's such an innately likable guy that it was too horrible to see his character just go down the tubes. Like the Sissy Spacek character, I wanted to believe in him.

It's visually stunning but that's because most of it is shot in the snow and snow scenes are almost always gorgeous.

I give it three stars just for Nolte's performance. Don't expect to be inspired, uplifted, entertained or to learn anything.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon December 9, 2008
I want to start by saying that on paper, `Affliction' is one of the most impressive character studies I've ever had the privilege of reading. The novel, written by Russell Banks (that author I keep touting as the greatest American writer of all time), is an outstanding piece of literature; a marvelous study of the slow progression of anger, pain, misery and ultimate insanity. On paper, `Affliction' is a masterpiece; on the screen, `Affliction' is merely a good movie.

It is a good movie, don't get me wrong, but this is not a great movie.

The problem lies in the pacing, so honestly I guess I can heap all the blame on director Paul Schrader. The thing about the novel is that Banks has this beautiful way of allowing his characters to stew in their own predicaments. There are long passages that seem to just build more tension and cast more darkness over the story and the characters within it. I think back to what Atom Egoyan did with `The Sweet Hereafter', allowing the sweeping views of the snow covered town to bring to life the `stillness' of Banks novel. He complemented the script with his expert direction. `Affliction' seems a little too rushed. The script is impeccable, much like `The Sweet Hereafter', changing very little in adaptation and staying very true to what Banks originally penned.

I can't help but think that this film would have been perfect had it added about thirty minutes of silence; interjecting random scenes of serene camera movement throughout the bustle of the story to establish the mood needed to elevate this film and bring it to the novel's level.

The film tells the story of Wade Whitehouse, a man pushed to the edge of his very sanity thanks to the people all around him. He lives in the same small town in which he grew up. He works the same dead end thankless job he's worked almost all his life. He's tormented by memories of an abusive childhood and he's struggling to win the war against his ex-wife over the affections of their daughter Jill. A series of events (an accidental death of a well respected man and the death of Wade's mother) start a domino effect almost, causing Wade to drift rapidly into the depths of insanity.

The film lacks the emotional impact the novel did, for the novel allowed us time to appreciate the mental deterioration overtaking Wade, and it gave us enough background in order to understand it. Here, his freefall seems almost too sudden at times.

Performance wise though, this is a goldmine. I am not a fan of Nick Nolte. I find his breed of overacting to be a hindrance to the films he inhabits. In fact, aside from his rather surprisingly controlled performance in `Cape Fear' I have hated everything he's done. This though, is a masterclass. Honestly, the fact that this is Nolte floors me. He has such deep understanding of Wade's character (maybe even more so than Schrader) and he exhibits that knowledge in every movement he makes. He delivers such a grounded and emotionally rich performance here; I'm stunned. James Coburn won the Oscar for his sadistic portrayal of Wade's abusive father, and while I'm not sure I'd hand him the Oscar I do believe he is marvelous here. Sissy Spacek is not the face I pictured when reading the novel, and so casting her as Margie seemed a bit off, but she works wonders with the part. These performances feel so small yet hit you very hard. They work far better than the film itself.

In the end I have to say that this is a very good movie, and if you have not read the novel you may even consider this a great movie. I was expecting a little more time invested in establishing the dark serenity that comes from reading Banks' work, so I was disappointed with Schrader direction.

Still, the film is a solid B, but the novel is an A+.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on March 24, 2008
Nick Nolte is excellent as a man who is seriously about to implode. Watching him in this role is like waiting to hear thunder after the lightning strikes. He is constantly on the verge of losing it, while he is also constantly trying to smother his wrath. You get the feeling that there is going to be a four alarm fire erupting at any time and Nick Nolte is about to run out of the water that is dousing his flames inside.

James Coburn plays his father. A nasty man, always drunk, always evil. We begin to see where Nick Nolte's character got his deep rooted angst. Being raised by such a man has left permanent scars inside of Nolte's character. Everyone that comes into contact with Coburn's character is left wounded.

It's a story about a cop in a small town who is trying to connect with his daughter, fight his ex-wife for custody, begin a new life with a new woman, tend to his father who has just lost his wife, investigate a hunting accident involving his best friend and coming to grips with his past, his family and his future.

This is no light hearted movie. There is depth and feeling. This movie might not make you feel happy, but it succeeds in reaching into your emotions and forcing you to feel what the main character is feeling. Not always pretty, but very effective.

This is one of the better movies I have seen. The acting is superb, the story is meaningful, the scenery makes you feel cold. 5 stars for this film for having the ability to bring out emotions in the viewer. Not for kids, heartbreaking, sad and perfect for what it was trying to do.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
If I were pressed to describe Affliction in one word, I think that word would be "difficult." Now, don't get me wrong, the film is a compelling, well-made portrait of man's descent into madness, but the tone and subject matter are designed to disturb, and that's exactly what they do.

Nick Nolte stars as Wade Whitehouse, the only policeman in the kind of small New Hampshire town where a lone policeman has enough time on his hands to also act as a school crossing guard and plow the snow off the streets. A hunting accident leaves a rich man visiting town dead, but the man who was with him - Wade's best friend Jack - didn't see it happen, so he assumes that the man accidentally shot himself. Wade thinks there is more to it than that, and that Jack may have killed him for money.

As Wade continues to think about the crime, he gradually loses more and more touch with reality. It doesn't help that since his mother's death, he's been spending more time with the abusive father (James Coburn in a brilliant performance) who has had more influence on him than he'd like to think. Wade never even sees it coming that he's turning into his old man. As Wade's delusion increases, his relationships with his daughter and his girlfriend (Sissy Spacek) deteriorate.

Nolte delivers powerfully in the lead role. It's a terribly difficult part to pull off, but he plays it with the exact amount of nuance that few actors can deliver. He makes us truly feel for Wade, especially during the scenes with his daughter, where he's just trying to be a good father, but he has no blueprint for good fatherhood because his own was so awful.

James Coburn plays the constantly-drunk father who has no need for anybody or anything except himself and his alcohol. The first time we meet the distant old man in the present day, he doesn't even need heat in his house - even if it kills his wife. Only as we learn more about the father do we learn more about Wade's affliction.

There is what I feel is unnecessary narration at a few points throughout the film. This is done by Willem Dafoe as Wade's brother Rolfe. Despite this, I know that this is what critics would describe as a "good" film, but I feel I can only recommend it to those who would like to trek into highly unconventional territory - the kind that digs under your skin and leaves a bad taste in your mouth.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on March 23, 2000
I don't see Nick Nolte movies. He does not do much for me, but he was so convincing in this role that it was scary. I got the uncomfortable feeling that I was evesdropping into someone's personal life. In this case, we are privy to Nolte's frustrations and disintegration. One aspect that was covered very well was Nolte's inability to take action and stand up for himself. He's a big and frustrated guy who knows that he falls over too easily and he hates that about himself. You won't see this kind of stuff in movies and I doubt you will ever see it executed as well as this.
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