All the King's Men (2006) [Blu-ray]
Oscar(r)-winning actor Sean Penn (Best Actor, Mystic River, 2003), two-time Academy Award(r) nominee Jude Law (Best Supporting Actor, The Talented Mr. Ripley, 1999; Best Actor, Cold Mountain, 2003), four-time Academy Award(r) nominee Kate Winslet (Best Supporting Actress, Sense and Sensibility, 1995; Iris, 2001, Best Actress, Titanic, 1997; Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, 2004), and Oscar(r) winner Anthony Hopkins (Best Actor, The Silence of the Lambs, 1991) star in this riveting story of a humble man's rise to political power and the destructive force of corruption and betrayal that would ultimately unravel his soul, based on Robert Penn Warren's 1946 classic Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. Willie Stark (Penn) is an ordinary man from a rural town, demanding that crooked politicians and shady businessmen in Lousiana be held accountable for the collapse of a poorly built school. Urged to run for Governor by a dubious political advisor, Tiny Duffy (three-time Emmy(r) Award winner
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The only improvement I could suggest would have been more frequent use of Robert Penn Warren's own dialogue. For instance, when Burden criticized Stark for boring his listeners, for showing them pie graphs and talking statistics and finances, he was brief and low-key. In the book, Burden railed at Stark -- "Make 'em laugh, make 'em cry, pinch them in a soft spot, but for God's sake don't try to improve their minds." Several other instances occurred where the author's exact wording would have worked better.
Also, two interesting book story points were omitted: Stark's boy, the football player, toward the end was injured during a play and paralyzed from the neck down; Lucy resigned the rest of her life to caring for him. Also, in the end, Jack Burden and Anne Stanton finally married, fulfilling their destiny from youth. It made a good wrap-up.
Robert Penn Warren based his original novel on the life and career of the notorious Huey Long, aka "The Kingfish," who served as governor of Louisiana from 1928 to 1932. Like Long, Warren's main character, Willy Stark, is a charismatic leader who offends the powers-that-be with his populist rantings, yet eventually becomes as lowdown, vile and corrupt as the politicians he initially railed against to get himself elected.
This theme of the corrupting influence of power - and the corrosive effect that corruption has on the American political system - may have seemed fresh and insightful in Warren's day, but it is strictly old hat today. Moreover, in Steven Zaillian`s pretentious rehash, Stark transitions from being an idealist to a cynic in such record-setting time that the audience is completely at a loss as to how to read the character. Is he a man genuinely committed to helping his fellow citizens who eventually loses his way, or is he just another snake-oil salesman from the get-go exploiting the gullibility of the masses to get what he wants? The film doesn't seem to know, and the audience, quite frankly, doesn`t really care.
Stunningly, the movie is helped not one whit by its strictly A-list caliber cast. Penn hams it up shamelessly as the over-the-top Stark, spewing spittle and bile, regardless of whether he is whipping a downtrodden audience into an emotional frenzy or plotting the downfall of his manifold political rivals. Law, on the other hand, underplays to the point of catatonia the part of the governor's idealistic assistant (and narrator of the tale) who sells his soul to the devil by doing Stark's dirty work for him, even going so far as to blackmail the very man who raised him, in order to prevent the governor from being impeached by the state senate. Clarkson, Gandolfini, Ruffalo and Winslet do little but stand around in the wings waiting for something dramatic to happen (as do we all), and Hopkins is simply too lazy to go through the trouble of even attempting a Louisiana accent let alone perfecting one. The movie definitely could have used some serious paring down from the original storyline, since it is stuffed to bursting with characters who come and go seemingly at random, and whom we really couldn`t care less about. To add insult to injury, James Horner's original music, with its overemphatic underlining and theater-rattling crescendos, should be studied in film schools as a model of how NOT to score a motion picture.
This movie doesn't hold a candle to such superior political dramas as "The Best Man," "The Candidate," "The Distinguished Gentleman" and, yes, even the original "All the King's Men," which boasted the incomparable Broderick Crawford and Mercedes McCambridge in the lead roles. Despite its coming from a simpler time, there was fire and passion in that version of the tale, two elements that are sorely lacking in this meandering, lethargic and undercooked remake.
The film, based on a screenplay by Steve Zaillian, is also based in Louisiana. The politician, Willie Stark (Penn), runs a parallel course to Long's illustrious career. He started out meaning well and his interest was always in the common man, 'hicks' like him. The story is narrated by newspaper reporter, Jack Burden (Law) who works for Sparks.
There's a lot of strong messages in "All the King's Men." You can watch it from the perspective of a soap opera, a parallel to contemporary politics (the discussion of the oil companies' influence, for example) or an Ivory Tower comparison to Machiavelli.
This film could have been great, had they decided a few aspects differently. To quote the film itself: "You only get a couple of moments that determine your life. Sometimes only one. And then it's gone. Forever." Probably the worst decision the directors made was changing the timeframe the film is set in. If you ignore that the film's set twenty years past Long's time, it works a lot better. I don't agree with the decision that the 50's are interchangeable historically with the 30's.
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.