Press hope not to 'Stain' pic with spoilers

HOLLYWOOD — Marketing a twist is nothing new to Miramax, which virtually patented the formula with its campaign for “The Crying Game.”

But the company faces a different kind of left turn in “The Human Stain.” The question is, how much sleight of hand can Miramax work with the key revelation within “Stain,” given how much info early press and reviews already divulge?

The film adaptation of Philip Roth‘s PEN/Faulkner Award-winning book is a major Oscar hopeful that just unspooled at the Venice Film Festival. After a couple more fest stops, it will bow in the U.S. on Oct. 3.

Seizing on the twist already digested by those familiar with the book, many reviewers have zeroed in on the casting of Anthony Hopkins. The reason has to do with a revelation about his identity that occurs about an hour into the film. (No, he isn’t a woman.)

Discussions of the issue are so central to the film that some reviews posted on the Web or on wire services carry warnings to those who might not want the movie spoiled for them. (“Caution: Spoilers ahead!” has become a standard phrase on the scoop-happy Web.)

The case of “The Human Stain” puts a spotlight anew on the overlap, if any, of readers and moviegoers. A book that sells 10,000 copies can be a best seller; a hit film needs an audience a thousand times as big.

In fall preview articles and its own press materials, Miramax makes no effort to hide the Hopkins twist. Miramax’s Matthew Hiltzik says word of mouth will be essential.

“The film is full of twists that will become apparent when audiences see it,” he says, “and as critics and commentators discuss the important social issues in the film.”

The film’s trailer is a definite tease. Cut to a classic suspense rhythm, it climaxes with an embrace between Hopkins and Nicole Kidman. “There’s something I need to tell you,” he whispers. “Tell me later,” she replies. A black-and-white graphic beckons: “This fall, uncover the mystery.”

The film’s fortunes may pivot on whether knowing the twist in advance compromises the viewing experience.

Miramax, of course, routinely manages to seductively package films about unusual subjects, even given less bravura material than “Crying Game.”

It is doubtful, for instance, that people would have packed theaters to see a film sold as “a romantic thriller about a London kidney-smuggling ring.” Yet that’s the artfully disguised plot of “Dirty Pretty Things,” which has already racked up almost $5 million in limited U.S. release.

Sorry for the spoiler.

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