Mike D'Angelo
July 06, 1999 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Nolte’s towering, Oscar-nominated performance as embittered small-town cop Wade Whitehouse is the best reason to endure Paul Schrader’s latest tortured exploration of tragic machismo. Adapted, like 1997’s ”The Sweet Hereafter,” from a novel by Russell Banks, it charts the mental and emotional disintegration of a good but fundamentally weak man suffering under a legacy of brutality (Coburn won an Oscar for playing Wade’s snarling demon of a dad). But while Atom Egoyan’s ”Hereafter” pierces the heart, Schrader’s approach is so bleak that it feels like something inflicted rather than something bestowed.

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