The King (2005)

DVD Cover (THINKFilm)
Genres: Drama, Psychological Thriller
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James Marsh James Marsh
Gael García Bernal Gael García Bernal
Derek Alvarado Derek Alvarado
E. Matthew Buckley E. Matthew Buckley
Monica Peña Monica Peña
Veronica Bernal Veronica Bernal

6.7 / 10 - Overall Rating

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Review by bluemeanie
Added: September 01, 2006
There were several reasons why "The King" appealed to me. For starters, Gael Garcia Bernal and William Hurt star in the film, and both are two of my favorite screen performers. I remember falling in love with Bernal in "The Motorcycle Diaries", and William Hurt only added to his resume with last year's outstanding "A History of Violence". Secondly, it was getting a lot of comparisons to the film I just mentioned - "A History of Violence", both in terms of pacing and execution. And, lastly, it appealed to me because very few serious films are set in the South - "Junebug" is the most recent example. "The King" looked like it might be a very interesting film...and, it was. However, there was something missing from this film - something apparent - that was either forgotten about during the filming, or just never thought up at all. What was it? Drama. I watched "The King", waiting for something to happen. And, when it did, I felt like I had been cheated, as if I had been investing all that time and energy into characters that really don't do anything, or go through anything, at least not anything substantial. "The King" was a good film, but that's as far as it goes.

In yet another fine performance, Gael Garcia Bernal stars as Elvis Valderez. Just released from the Navy, he makes his way to Corpus Christi, Texas, to meet the father he has never known. William Hurt stars as Pastor David Sandow, a Bible-thumping Christian who once drifted to the dark side and made love to a prostitute, impregnating her with what would become Bernal's character. At first, Sandow wants nothing to do with the man who has popped out of nowhere. He warns his family to stay away from him. Pell James stars as Malerie Sandow, a 16-year-old girl who finds Elvis interesting and decides to disobey her father and see him. Paul Dano stars as Paul Sandow, who is about to head off to Baylor University, if he can stop the teaching of evolution in the schools. And, Laura Harring is Twyla Sandow, who does not like Elvis at first, and suspects something. Something happens about midway through the film, akin to "In the Bedroom", but I will not reveal what that is. It changes the film. It changes everything about the film - from the way we perceive the characters to the way the film eventually ends, if you can call it that. This single event is one of the problems I had with the film. This single event is what made "The King" less that stellar.

Now, don't get me wrong - there is nothing wrong with a film that has a slow pace, slow build up, and slow execution. Traditionally, I love those. I like independent cinema, and "The King" is what independent cinema is all about. However, all of these 'slow' ingredients are not tolerable because we are never given anything substantial. At the beginning of the film, we like the Elvis character. He is nice, attractive, and seems to be trying to get by. Then he commits an act which seems totally out of character. Evidently, we are suppose to believe he can do this because of a couple of odd looks at the camera and the very scant references to violence that he makes. There is nothing up to that point that would make us believe he would ever do anything like that. Maybe the filmmakers were wanting to shock the audience, and they did - but not in a good way. After this event happens, all the characters begin to act in ways that are just bizarre - this is also not in a good way. The only character that seems to be somewhat normal is the character of the mother, and even she is given so little screen time that it makes us wonder if the filmmakers wanted anything to be tolerable. Then, the film ends on such an odd and wasted note - it really disappoints. It was evidently some kind of artistic statement or something, but it just pissed me off, and left me wholly unsatisfied.

Despite all this, "The King" features some fine performances. As mentioned earlier, Gael Garcia Bernal is strong here as Elvis, even though his character is so poorly developed that we never really get a grasp on it. We just know that he got out of the Navy, went to find his dad, started working at a pizza place, and lies about his mother. William Hurt delivers the best performance of the film as Pastor Sandow, though he gets much less screen time than I would have liked. Pell James is all right in the film, but nothing special, and Paul Dano continues to shine in these supporting roles. So, don't blame the actors for the outcome of this film. I don't know if anyone is to blame really. This film just doesn't give us anything that we want, and when it gives us something that it thinks we want, it is really just insulting our sensibilities. "The King" does not work on the level that it needs to work in order to succeed. It is no "In the Bedroom". It is not "Mean Creek". And, it is certainly no "A History of Violence". This film is recommended only to those who can sit through laborious film projects and be fine walking out with little compensation for their efforts.

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