Disgrace (15)

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The Independent Culture

The visionary gravity of J M Coetzee's Booker-winning novel is perhaps untranslatable to the screen, but Steve Jacobs's film is a very creditable try.

A bold one, too, in casting John Malkovich, the lizard king, as the lead. He plays a Cape Town University professor who, following a ruinous affair with a student, refuses to defend himself to the authorities. Disgraced, he resigns and travels to the remote farmstead of his daughter, Lucy (Jessica Haines). Up to this point Malkovich is his usual mannered seducer-creep, but after a violent break-in that leaves father and daughter physically scarred and subtly estranged from one another, the film becomes a haunting, even harrowing, meditation on the tainted legacy of white rule in South Africa. The cool restraint of Jacobs's direction is humanised by the affecting performances of Haines and, in the second half, Malkovich himself as a man who knows he's whipped – "like a dog" – with nowhere left to go.