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Review: Affliction

An influential businessman dies in a freak hunting accident. Single gunshot wound through the chest. No witnesses. One stubborn cop suspects foul play, and must dig through a mountain of apathy and corruption to uncover the truth.

We’ve all heard this story before.

Or have we? How much of this small-town conspiracy is real, and how much exists only in the imagination of our troubled protagonist–a delusion dreamed up by a psychologically-scarred man desperately trying to cope with his drug and alcohol dependence, his shattered marriage, his tyrannical father’s physical and emotional abuse?

That’s what sets Paul Schrader’s Affliction (adapted from a Russell Banks novel) apart from conventional thrillers: the murder mystery is just another brush stroke in the beautiful, haunting character portrait. Transporting Schrader’s favorite theme–urban isolation–to a cozy, snow-covered New Hampshire town, the film instead emphasizes the various internal and external forces that gradually push Wade Whitehouse (an aggressive Nick Nolte) towards violent self-destruction (recalling Taxi Driver’s Travis Bickle, American Gigolo’s Julian Kaye, Light Sleeper’s John LeTour). And any little spark might trigger the explosion–even something as insignificant as a toothache.

[Originally written August 14, 2012.]

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