Classics Professor Coleman Silk (Anthony Hopkins), exasperated that two students have yet to show up for his class points to their empty seats and ask rhetorically, "Do they exist or are they spooks?" He should have chosen his words more carefully because the two absent students are black and Silk is subsequently charged with using racial slurs by the college.
Yes, this could definitely happen, although one would expect it to be cleared up once there was an investigation. However, Coleman Silk gets more than a little uptight. Something has hit a nerve. He has enemies. He doesn't cooperate and in fact resigns in face of the charge. His wife drops dead, and at the age of 71 Coleman gets involved in a Viagra-hyped love affair with Faunia Farley (Nicole Kidman), a 34-year-old cleaning woman and high school dropout with a past.
Turns out that Coleman too has a past, and that past partially explains why he got so uptight about the racial slur charge. Seems that Coleman has "passed." Seems that he was "colored" and didn't want to be colored and so forsook his family and passed into the white world and never looked back.
This is from the novel by Philip Roth, who has written many splendid novels. The adaptation is by Nicholas Meyer who did most of the scripts for the Star Trek movies. Robert Benton's direction is professional and clear. Anthony Hopkins is very good as one would expect and Nicole Kidman as a hardtack brunette with worry lines on her face is vividly real as the bitter, but vulnerable Faunia Farley. Ed Harris plays her also bitter, spaced-out, estranged husband, a twisted Viet Vet with malevolence on his mind.
The story is told in a straight-forward way with flashbacks to Coleman's past where we see that he was a welterweight prize fighter for a while and had his heart broken because his very blonde bride-to-be just couldn't stomach the thought of marrying into a Negro family. Wentworth Miller plays young Coleman and definitely looks and acts the part. Anna Deavere Smith plays his mother with the kind of dignity you would expect from a woman who raised the son of Pullman porter to become a classics professor at a small New England private college. Gary Sinise as Coleman's neighbor, Nathan Zuckerman (and Philip Roth perennial), narrates the story from the novel he eventually writes.
All in all an interesting movie that recalls an age gone by while at the same time reminding us that the politically correct postmodern world is upon us.
See this for Nicole Kidman who is on her way to becoming one of the great stars of the cinema as yet again she shows that she cannot be typecast, and for Anthony Hopkins, one of the more accomplished actors of our time.
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