All The King’s Men (2006)

(Editor’s Note:  Once again Mr. Shane is taking  a break from politics, his walks in the woods, and other things that people read about here.  With mass shootings leading to the crazy right calling for more guns in schools, churches, public parks, etc…he cannot take it anymore.   That on top of willful stupidity — who needs economists? — when dealing with our economy…well, Mr. Shane is taking this break to enjoy some time with his weaker thoughts and fantasies. Mr. Shane’s regular posts will return sometime in the near future.  Until then, he will write about movies no one watches.)

Thank goodness All the King’s Men (2006) was so slick and terribly overdone.   Why, if it were not for the wonderfully attired characters throughout the film — rich and poor alike — I don’t know there would have been much there to see.

Exquisite wardrobes really, absolutely exquisite…almost elegant, indeed very elegant…and, in fact…too elegant!

Cover of "All the King's Men (Special Edi...

Cover of All the King’s Men (Special Edition)

Therein lies the problem.  All the King’s Men, starring Sean Penn, Jude Law, and Kate Winslet — and featuring Anthony Hopkins (why does he still do this to himself) — had eye-appeal, but felt both overwrought and unsatisfying.  A comparison might be the overly eager amateur chef who brutalizes a simple béchamel with an overdose of effort and seasoning.

Patricia Clakson — thank god for Patricia Clarkson — does her thing (which is all she needs to do) and sexes up the film in that understated way that’s all hers.  (Is she single?)  Alas, however, even Patricia Clarkson couldn’t save this one.

Indeed, the problem starts with the cast.  Why Sean Penn?  Kate Winslet?  In a film about an egomaniac it might seem logical to select egomaniac stars for leading roles, but in this film the characters flop.  A big thundering thud — as loud as the film’s overbearing and distracting soundtrack — and they never find any pick up.  Really quite disappointing.

But they do look good…I’ll give them that.  Even the common country folk in 1930s Louisiana seemed to have a damn good tailor and a spanking launderer.  Although here is a point where perhaps I should correct myself.  1930s?  I think we fast forwarded a bit, fast forward to the age of diesel locomotives and 1940s automobiles.  For some reason this 2006 remake is set about 20 years later than the original.  That’s a little thing, right?  Maybe it’s just harder to find old cars.  I don’t know.  Don’t really care either.  They still looked good and made me long for the days when men wore hats.

Unfortunately, if that’s what I got out of this film, the story might be missing a step here and there.

There is a story here, it simply isn’t developed well and can be hard to follow at times.  Jude Law, playing Jack Burden, carries the story, even if it wanders a bit through vague vignettes.  After all Jack Burden’s conflict as Willie Stark‘s (Sean Penn) right hand man drives the story in Robert Penn Warren’s novel.  Through Burden — aptly named — we witness the underside of early 20th century American politics.

It is likely this political commentary that Penn sought to capture, but instead he looks more like a caricature desperate to lead the story while also struggling to dominate the screen.  In truth,  Willie Stark is Jeff Burden’s foil, and it seems neither director Steven Zaillian or Sean Penn understood that and it shows.  As a result, the essence of Robert Penn Warren’s critique feels like a Hollywood cliché.

All the King’s Men isn’t a bad bad film.  Yes, the story could have more depth, the characters more development, and the costumes more smudges and wrinkles, but as a contemporary American drama….well, it ain’t bad.

The visual aesthetic of the film doesn’t serve the original story well, but as a cleaned up and dressed up version of the original, it isn’t unpleasant to watch.  It simply does not capture the dirty, edgy — let’s call it sleazy — almost noir-like aesthetic of the Robert Penn Warren novel or Robert Rossen‘s Oscar-winning 1949 film adaption.  But it isn’t bad.

Plus the new film has a woman dancing on ice skates.  Wearing only lingerie.  Hey, why not?

(No typos!)

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