It's difficult to say whether or not Waking the Dead is his best film, since it's one of those movies which seeps into you as you view it, then stays with you in the days that follow. It's certainly his most challenging in terms of tone, structure, and theme, deliberately convoluted and fragmented, moving back and forth between two different, contrasting eras (the idealistic '70s and the aggressively opportunistic '80s) and the evolution of its deeply troubled central character, Fielding Pierce (Billy Crudup).
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When in doubt, set your moody psychodrama in the frozen northeast, which will set the mood perfectly.
Affliction has plenty of mood. Too bad the story stinks. Telling the twin tales of small town Sheriff Wade Whitehouse (Nolte) -- a father/son struggle with pop (Coburn) and an investigation into a suspicious hunting accident-cum-land grab -- both turn out to be as dry as dust. Wade, like dad, is a boozehound and an overall loser. Why girlfriend Margie (Spacek) puts up with him is a mystery. How the audience is supposed to care about him is an even bigger one.
Coburn won Best Supporting Actor for his miniscule role, and that seems deserved, but if you're looking for a far better frozen thriller, check out Fargo or A Simple Plan.
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The film is expected to continue without Mendes' involvement.