This is the first film employing the creepy technology that Hoover usedto claw Fred Astaire's poor corpse from its final resting place and force it to dance with their vacuum cleaner. In this case, James Coburn is brought back from the dead, via clever computer graphics, to play a role as Wade Whitehouse's (Nick Nolte) abusive father, Glen (James Coburn).
This is a rather gimmicky special effect in an otherwise serious and depressing film. Apparently, director Paul ("Touch") Schrader thinks we're all idiots. Never mind that the release was put off for at least a year and a half because it was finished at exactly the same time as "The Sweet Hereafter," Atom Egoyan's film based on another of Russell Banks' books. Everyone knows that James Coburn has been dead since 1991. That year he made "Hudson Hawk," and I refuse to believe that a guy that old could have lived through that level of public humiliation.
Coburn's character is seen mostly via flashback, thus making the cheesy special effect easier to pull off, but the entire film is about Wade's descent toward repeating his father's mistakes, so we know they're eventually going to tangle and appear together onscreen. One imagines Nolte had to wrestle with an inflatable stand-in against a green screen for several weeks to make the whole thing look real.
Other than this annoying interaction, "Affliction" is a horribly depressing film. Wade, the sheriff of a small New Hampshire town, is trying to investigate a shooting while gradually flushing his life down the crapper. He's at odds with his ex-wife (Mary Beth Hurt) and has all sorts of problems dealing with his daughter. He even manages to hurt his sympathetic girlfriend (Sissy Spacek). If this film's genetic and behavioral determinism is indicative of Banks' or Schrader's take on life, it's a wonder either of them ever leaves the house.
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