This film had something very special going for it with its central casting of Sean Penn as Huey Long, the Kingfisher, the everyman governor of depression-era Louisiana (Willie Stark in the film). If ever there was a role designed for Penn's heated and emotive style of acting, this was it. True to that promise, Penn delivers a few (too few) wonderful scenes with Willie Stark delivering fire and brimstone from the campaign stump.
Other than these scenes, the film is an unformed washout. Willie Stark's transformation from righteous, wife loving common man to manipulative, self-serving adulterous political schemer is . . . . well there really is no transformation. It simply happens between scenes off camera, rendering a potentially fascinating character, rich with comment about the fallibility of human nature, into a black and white, boring nothing.
The film sort of meanders around with the character of reporter Jack Burden (played by the desperately miscast Jude Law)and his exceptionally average family story, which somehow includes lover Anne Stanton (played by the desperately miscast Kate Winslet) and her brother Adam Stanton, played by Mark Ruffalo (who was at least well cast but left hanging in limbo by some very lazy scriptwriting). On board also is the very talanted James Gandolfini, who must have owed someone a very big favor. I challenge anyone to explain to me what he was doing in this bumbling, mumbling role, so far beneath his station. All in all, I was left wondering how any of the principals managed to convince themselves the product was release-ready when watching the final edit.
Final note to Hollywood: let's strike a deal with England: From this day forth, no cross-accenting. Americans shall not play Brits; Brits shall not play Americans (particularly southerners). I think this simple piece of legislation would do wonders in maintaining good relations with that isle across the pond. Lord have mercy it was painful watching Mr. Law and Ms. Winslet giving it their best. All British actors use the exact same accent for anyone "southern"; a kind of a generic mish mash of drawl: all at once from everywhere and nowhere.
One finally final note: is it just me or does Jude Law seem a little less like the real thing with each role?
Not even slightly recommended.