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Even though I haven't read the Philip Roth novel on which Nicholas Meyer based his screenplay, I sensed while watching this that I was in the presence of an especially meticulous attempt at translation. The film retains Roth's habitual alter ego, Nathan Zuckerman (Gary Sinise), a storyteller-within-the-story, like Marlow in Conrad's “Heart of Darkness.” Through this narrative filter we learn the story of a widowed classics professor (Anthony Hopkins) who—like literary critic Anatole Broyard—was born black but has lived most of his life on the other side of the color line. Director Robert Benton allows the cast (which includes Ed Harris and, as a janitor Hopkins has an affair with, Nicole Kidman) to shine, but I was left wondering why such a very literary construction as this needed to be made into a movie. R, 106 min.

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