All The King's Men (2006)

DVD Cover (Sony Home Entertainment)
Steven Zaillian Steven Zaillian
Sean Penn Sean Penn
Jude Law Jude Law
Anthony Hopkins Anthony Hopkins
Kate Winslet Kate Winslet
Mark Ruffalo Mark Ruffalo

6.2 / 10 - Overall Rating

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Genres: Drama, Film A Clef, Political Drama
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Review by bluemeanie
Added: September 27, 2006
Bad buzz is a difficult thing to shake, and most of the time it sticks with a motion picture like Catholic priests to jerseys after a high school basketball game (sorry...I had to). One of the most recent films to bomb thanks primarily to bad buzz was Oliver Stone's disastrous "Alexander", a film that was touted as a sure-fire contender for Best Picture, before it was test screened for audiences and critics and turned out to be a waste of time and money. "All the King's Men" does not suffer from that same kind of scenario because it is not as large a scale of a film. Scheduled for release during last year's awards season, it was delayed so some changes could made. Re-scheduled for earlier this year, it was one again pushed back to make it more viable for awards season. It received one hell of a lukewarm reception in Toronto, and it bombed opening weekend at the box office. Why? The culprit would have to be bad buzz. This film was placed on the highest pedestal for months and months and touted as a true classic. Imagine how difficult it is to live up to that kind of word of mouth, especially from people who have yet to even see the film. That's the problem with Hollywood these days - that attach buzz to a film before anyone has seen a single frame. "All the King's Men" has paid the ultimate price for this negative publicity, which is a shame because it was a film that I really enjoyed. Bad buzz aside, this is one of the better films of the year.

Based on Robert Penn Warren's classic novel, "All the King's Men" follows the rise of Louisiana hick Willie Stark (Sean Penn), who went from treasurer of his local city hall to the governor of the state of Louisiana. Stark is a fictitious character, based on Governor Huey P. Long. The film deals with Stark's relationship with journalist Jack Burden (Jude Law), who joins Stark's team as someone who digs up dirt on people. Halfway through the film, Burden is asked to dig up dirt on a judge who is causing Stark problems, Judge Irwin (Anthony Hopkins), who also happens to be Burden's father figure and trusted friend of the family. James Gandolfini and Patricia Clarkson star as two members of Stark's team, Kate Winslet and Mark Ruffalo as adolescent friends of Burden, and veteran character actress Kathy Baker as Burden's mother. The film is, essentially, the rise and fall of a man who is either absolutely corrupt or absolutely honest, depending on the way you view his tactics and the political process. Willie Stark represents the political process as a whole, in that he represents someone who might have started out for all the right reasons, but ends up falling into the same routine as every politician before and after him. What separates Stark from other politicians and makes his character so kinetic is his ability to captivate an audience and hold their attention.

This film was directed by Steven Zaillian, a man I consider to be one of the best screenwriters and directors in the business today. He has only directed two others films, the brilliant "Searching for Bobby Fischer" and the powerful "A Civil Action". He has also penned scripts for films ranging from "Schindler's List" to "Gangs of New York". This is his third film, and a departure from his previous efforts, though his influence is felt in just about every scene. Zaillian gives us narration in all of his films, and Jude Law serves as narrator of "All the King's Men". Most of the time, narration can become boring and sappy, but Zaillian manages to keep Law's narration very poetic and very mysterious - almost as if he's trying to solve a riddle in his own mind. Believe it or not, this minor detail is what helps elevate "All the King's Men" from most other historical biopics. Zaillian also gives us some beautiful imagery and some beautiful camera work, thanks to cinematographer Pawel Edelman, also responsible for "The Pianist" and "Ray". Stark's political rallies are brilliantly staged and they really add a level of excitement to the film. The end shot of Penn and Ruffalo in the courthouse is absolutely gorgeous and one of the most pivotal political statements I have seen in film in a very long time. I am shocked at all the negative reviews this film has received, especially with "Jackass Part Two" is currently well over sixty percent positive.

One of the smart things Zaillian did was assemble a top-notch group of performers. Sean Penn delivers yet another Oscar worthy performance as Willie Stark, though I assume some critics will say and have said that he is over-the-top. Well, so is the character. Willie Stark is a loud and eccentric character and Penn plays him as loud and eccentric. As Jack Burden, Jude Law delivers one of his best performances in a long while, tackling the American accent far better than he did in the dreadfully overrated "Cold Mountain". Kate Winslet and Mark Ruffalo fire off nice supporting performances, as does the spectacular Anthony Hopkins, who steals each and every scene he is in with his mere presence. Watching he and Penn fire off one another was exciting. The one disappointing performance seemed to come from one of the best actresses working in the business today, the usually amazing Patricia Clarkson. She seemed bored here, as if she didn't know why she was even in the film. I agree. Zaillian did not make her character necessary to the story. James Gandolfini - you can either take or leave his performance. He has very little screen time, and chews up the time he is given with a loud and overly stylized accent. It is either one of his best performances, or one of his worst. I am still undecided, but leaning towards the former.

Please, don't let the bad buzz keep you from seeing this film. "All the King's Men" has suffered enough already at the hands of the ridiculous media and needs a helping hand. It's already been snuffed out of awards consideration, so at least we can all help to give it a box office boost that won't make it seem to trivial. It frustrates me when a film like that can be put through the ringer and booed out of contention by people who will give a film like "Jackass Part Two" a high enough review to put it on the positive side of things. I know they are two types of films, but does anyone actually think that "Jackass" has more of a message and more of a pay-off than "All the King's Men"? If so, then those individuals need to revise their critical analysis and maybe try a different kind of job, aside from film critic. Maybe garbage man or something. "All the King's Men" was a powerful film, featuring brilliant direction, a strong score from composer James Horner, and some of the best acting you'll see all year, especially from Penn and Law. "All the King's Men" kept my attention, gave me thorough entertainment, and I assure you - the bad buzz is misleading.

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