What do Sean Penn,Jude Law and James Gandolfini have in common? Answer:they are all decent actors who to a man could not effect a Southern accent to save their lives (or this film).
ATKM is based on the much better, much older film of the same name that told a fictionalized account of a Louisiana politician based on Governor and later U.S Senator Huey Long. Long was an interesting figure, and while many still disagree on whether his poliices were salvation or destruction, his short career was undeniably very interesting. Long's corrruption is not disputed however, and ATKM follows Long ("Willie Stark" here) as he rises to power, abuses power and ultimately falls.
James Carville, who is a decent speaker, co-produced this mess. He would have been so better suited himself for the title role, because to listen to Sean Penn painfully abuse the Southern dialect, or Gandolfini who most of us still relate to as a Soprano lean forward and confide in an Amos and Andy patois, it's absolutely unwatchable. I don't know why it'd be so hard to recruit say Billy Bob Thornton, Tommy Lee Jones or any other player who could have been natural in this role instead of so obviously out of place as the cast of ATKM.The casting here is comparable to putting Jackie Chan in the Don Corleone role of "The Godfather".
Huey Long was, absent his faults, a great orator and a very charismatic personality. Even with the help of a bombastic soundtrack, Sean Penn sounds like- well an actor. Like DeNiro and many other great performers, Penn cannot in deliver a speech effectively in public out of role and brings no inspiration here. Penns speeches lack charm and radiate nothing but anger as if he has projected his own beliefs of what the working class wants into his role.
THis film really deserves 1 star because of how bad it fails, and I'd send anyone looking into the story toward the original. It's a great tale that could use repeating in this time of "promise-the-world" phony populists like Hugo Chavez (curiously a Penn ally) as well as a few presidential candidates stateside I won't name here. Though we are certainly not in the Great Depression, the notion of politician as "man-of-the-people" who is an economic saviour is still a popular theme that consistently leads to more gov't and as always with more gov't- more corruption and LESS FREEDOM.
Find a youtube video of Huey Long or see the original.