All the King's Men Review

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Timix1's review of All the King's Men

★★☆☆☆

“Based on Robert Penn Warren's novel (a Pulitzer Prize...”

Written on: 27/09/2006 by Timix1 (33 reviews written)

Good Points
A stellar performance by the always dependable Sean Penn.

Bad Points
Miscasting of several major roles, and a loud, self-important tone that fails to draw you into the story.

General Comments
Based on Robert Penn Warren's novel (a Pulitzer Prize winner inspired by Louisiana Governor Heuy Long's rise to power back in the 1930's), ALL THE KING'S MEN was expected to be one of 2005's main Oscar contenders, so Columbia Pictures last-minute decision to postpone its release by almost a year prompted many insiders to fear the worst. Those concerns seemed temporarily assuaged when Columbia snagged its film a prime slot at the 2006 Toronto International Film Festival. Having seen the finished product, I can safely say that Steven Zaillian's adaptation (the second committed to celluloid, following the 1949 version that won a Best Picture Oscar) is by no means a complete disaster, but nor is it particularly good.



First, the good news: Sean Penn delivers another knockout performance as Willie Stark, a charismatic opportunist whose 'man of the people' rhetoric lands him in the Governor's office, setting up a fierce power struggle with Louisiana's major oil and utility companies (clearly, this is where any potential comparisons to George W. Bush stop cold) and the congressmen whose services they pay for. By the film's midway point, you've purged any notion that Stark was ever a true idealist who wasn't eying the Governor's job all along, but Penn makes the character no less fascinating to watch once Stark reveals his true colors.



The rest of the players seem incapable of raising their game to Penn's level, but chalk that up to miscasting; his fellow actors are by no means short on talent. The usually dependable Jude Law lacks bite as a Southern reporter drawn into Stark's machinations (I've never seen a more listless, indifferent newsman, which strikes me as something of a paradox), while Kate Winslet and Mark Ruffalo are wasted in under-written roles as siblings who befriended Law's character as children but who become drafted - willingly or not - into serving Stark's agenda. Anthony Hopkins, Patricia Clarkson and James Gandolfini fare reasonably better in other supporting roles.



The chief weakness here, however, is a script that tries achingly hard to make the movie feel like an event without bothering to make the characters particularly interesting or the story flow cohesively. Director Zaillian (who also wrote the screenplay) works overtime to make his adaptation into some kind of great Shakespearean tragedy, right down to its embarrassingly operatic final shot. The loud, overwrought musical score by James Horner only hammers home the point that this film takes itself painfully seriously. Certainly, the film's subject matter is exceedingly topical; it's not difficult to draw parallels between this tale of 1950's political corruption and more current events (one can easily imagine the sharply opinionated Penn's interest in the material). Given the combined talent attached to this project, I very much wanted to fall for its rhetoric. Sadly (and not unlike Governor Stark himself), ALL THE KING'S MEN attempts to convince you of its greatness by merely shouting at you about how great it is. It's not enough.

  • Sean Penn, Jude Law

    Starring Actor/Actress

  • Cinema

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The Daddy's Response to Timix1's Review

Written on: 14/11/2006

I was interested in checking this film out, big fan of Sean Penn, Gandolfini and Hopkins but from what you have said it sounds like one to avoid. It's such a shame when a genuinely great looking cast doesn't deliver the goods, would you recommend I wait for the DVD or avoid this all together??

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The Daddy's Response to Timix1's Review

Written on: 16/11/2006

Thanks for the feedback Timix! I agree with you with regards to the cast, and a great cast is enough to get me to see a film regardless of the reviews. Interesting comments about the Toronto Film Festival, are you in the movie business yourself or more of an enthusiast? I will definitely wait for the All The King's men DVD - I think on paper it's the strongest cast I've seen for a long time.

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Timix1's Response to Timix1's Review

Written on: 15/11/2006

To answer The Big Daddy's question:
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<br/>Hmm. Generally speaking, yes I'd recommend waiting for the DVD; they get released so quickly nowadays that the wait shouldn't be terribly long. That being said, the movies impressive cast may be a good enough reason for you to check it out at the cinema (an interesting cast will draw me to a movie like a bee to honey, so I'll sometimes overlook a movies negative reviews and see it anyway out of sheer curiosity). I caught a screening of 'All The King's Men' at the Toronto Film Festival last September, where I also saw Jude Law in 'Breaking And Entering' and Kate Winslet in 'Little Children', and their great performances in those superior films only reinforced how much the impressive cast of 'King's Men' was wasted here.

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