Seventeenth-century political philosopher Thomas Hobbes described the life of mankind without a good civilizing force as “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” Wade Whitehouse (Nolte) of Affliction would be sure to agree. Except, maybe the bit about short. This movie finds Wade well into a long, frustrated subsistence, in a cold New Hampshire town. His wife and daughter have been gone for years, his police job is pitiable, and his father — from whose violent shadow he cannot escape — is monstrous. Will the uncovering of a murder plot breathe life back into his brittle, tense sails? Will the warmhearted waitress (Spacek) help Wade back into humanity? Hint: this intense and disturbing character study is more interested in ravaged, compromised morality than tales of uplift.
James Coburn's rendition of Wade's alcoholic, and embittered father, is second only to Nolte's barely caged intensity. The part seems written for Nolte; Spacek performs at top peak as well. The film as a whole could have been more cohesive, yet a cold and jagged quality about it compliments the subject matter. This is meant to be an uneasy experience. Affliction does what few films dare: it spirals the viewer on an uncompromised, unsettling tour of one man's smoldering sunset.