Affliction
**** GM
Starring: Nick Nolte, James Coburn, Willem Dafoe, Sissy Spacek, Brigid Tierney, Mary Beth Hurt, Jim True, Holmes Osborne

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The relationship between a father and a child is a very tenuous thing - so many children are fatherless and so many others are jealous of them, because their unfortunate lot in life is to be spawned by a drunken, mean-spirited self-absorbed bastard.

Such is the case for Wade Whitehouse (Nick Nolte). His father (James Coburn) was a frighteningly violent and unstable man, and he's determined not to be seen by his daughter Jill (Brigid Tierney) the same way he sees the evil cretin he was unlucky enough to grow up with. Wade's problem, however, is that being raised by such an abusive man taught him nothing but violence as a means to solve any problem or dispute. That violence is an affliction that Wade, try as he might, cannot seem to overcome. He "lives on the edge of his emotions," as his brother Rolfe (Willem Dafoe) puts it.

Therein lies the immense frustration - Wade desparately wants a loving relationship with his daughter (so much so that he begins threatening to fight the custody arrangement with his ex-wife Lillian [Mary Beth Hurt] despite the advice of his current girlfriend Margie [Sissy Spacek]), and Jill is very much aware of this and does indeed love her father, but the two of them have nothing in common, they don't relate well to each other, and they are both uncomfortable around each other. His unshakable and angry determination to fight a futile war with his ex-wife for Jill is compounded by the death of his beloved mother, which forces him to move in with his decrepit but still nasty and obnoxious father, as well as a strange murder conspiracy that only Wade seems to notice cropping up between his best friend Jack (Jim True), Wade's boss Gordon LaRiviere (Holmes Osborne) and a suspicous and wealthy developer. All of this begins to push him over the edge of his emotions and down into the depths of his worst fears.

Nolte is excellent as Wade, despite a few mumbling line deliveries that, while in character, were hard to understand. The constant struggle against the seething anger and frustration that taints his relationships with his loved ones is convincing, and it's just as frustrating for the audience that is forced to watch him slowly lose that battle. It's touching to note that he often calls his brother Rolfe, a university professor, simply to ramble on about his thoughts, suspicions and plans, and takes to heart any suggestions or advice that Rolfe might give him, yet it's also somewhat ironic that the one voice he relies on and trusts above all others is the one that eventually steers him down the path to his doom.

Coburn is positively terrifying as the near-demonic father. Although it could be called a one-note character, that one note is enough to realize why Wade is so mentally scattered. Dealing with that terror every day of your childhood would scar anyone.

I'm not one to use words like Oscar-worthy, due to my general distaste for the vomitously self-congratulatory spectacle that award shows are, but this is one of the best films I've seen all year.

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