27 September 2006

Movie Review: "All the King's Men"

Movie Review: "All the King's Men"
September 27, 2006 03:09 PM EDT
© 2006 by Digital Dogs

A remake of the 1949 Oscar-winning Best Film by the same title, All the King's Men, originally from the Robert Penn Warren 1946 Pulitzer Prize winning novel, tells the story of an idealistic man who rises from poverty to be the governor of his state. With an all-star A-list cast like this one you would expect some tour de force acting to occur. Sadly, such is not the case. Whatever possessed the director, Steven Zaillian, to cast five of the six leads who play native Louisianans using English actors who could not duplicate the correct accent is beyond this reviewer. The accent problem creates much havoc as a good third of the dialog is hard to understand, much less care about. Why do the five of the six lead characters, who in this script all grew up together, have six distinctly different accents? It's just one of many problems with this film that will distract you from their work and from this story.

Sean Penn, one of our finer actors, had moments of brilliance in this film as Willie Stark, but in the end, was let down by his director. It's hard to understand why million dollar movie budgets are often based on the work of someone with little directorial experience. But that is how Hollywood is run these days, and writer Zallian, author of many fine scripts such as Schindler's List, Awakenings, and Gangs of New York, fails miserably here in directing this remake from his own screenplay. The intricacies of directing a film are completely different skills than writing a film. This is a common problem in Hollywood, someone who is the writer/director/producer of a movie will not have what it takes to edit it down into an enjoyable experience for the audience. Each line, each shot, each moment is held too dear to such a director. We have this problem to thank for overly long films with too many endings. This reviewer counted four endings for this film, each might have made this a stronger outing.

Being that the story of Willie Stark, a fictionalized version of real-life Louisiana politician Huey P. Long, is jam-packed with great characters, huge ideas and life-shattering disappointments, it's hard to understand why a voice-over was needed to tell this larger-than-life story… unless you understand the use of voice-overs in Hollywood. When copious voice-over is used in a film it is often a good indication that the dialog and action itself was not good enough to tell the story alone. Often, this voice-over is added in ADR at the end of the Post process to help explain the story for the audience. If the action and dialog cannot tell the story sufficiently the voice-over is the only way to get the story across. It is often a solution of last resort. Jude Law's Jack Burden tells the story here, and, though his performance left no complaints, his monotone voice-over and odd accent did. Accents changed and morphed throughout the film and left one wondering if the film had lost its budget for a dialog coach.

In keeping with the apparent official Hollywood 2006 Autumn theme of neo-noir films All the King's Men features overwrought gothic storytelling in a mixed up confusing gumbo of usually interesting actors who look great in their clothes and on the gorgeous sets by Production Designer Patrizia von Brandenstein, but have no clue as to what they are supposed to be doing. Jude Law's character, Jack, was supposed to have grown up with Kate Winslet's Anne Stanton and her brother Adam, both the children of a former beloved governor of the state, played by a consistently depressed and expressionless Mark Ruffalo. How Ruffalo gets cast in anything is beyond understanding, perhaps there's a market for actors who are unable to move their facial muscles. They all lived next to each other in huge swampy gothic mansions covered by kudzu and mud, and also hung out with a nearby judge, Anthony Hopkins, and a Stark advisor, Patricia Clarkson. Except for Clarkson, who is usually the best thing in whatever she appears in – and doesn't disappoint here, each actor had a different, and unusual accent, that stopped everything just about every time they opened their mouths. Even James Gandolfini, playing against type here as a Stark advisor in a pointless role with little dialog, feels like he's sleepwalking through time. The only partially interesting character in this film was Starks bodyguard Sugar Boy, played almost silently by Jackie Earle Haley, a true working actor with thirty years in the biz - and one of the best actors in this bunch of sleepwalkers.

In line with the poor choices made for this film, James Horner's music was baroque, it loudly and annoyingly cued the audience as to what emotion they should be feeling before every plot point. The script tells us Stark had a connection to the other "hicks" in Louisianna and that he did great things for the state as governor, but the film doesn't show us one thing Stark accomplished. All we see of Stark are some close-ups of him screaming his impassioned stump speeches at his hick audiences as he campaigns around the state. About two-thirds into the film the entire focus changes and we realize we are not watching the same story about Stark as we were at the beginning. Suddenly this film is all about four other characters and their smarmy personal lives. Very confusing.

The real questions here are… why the painful remake of a past award-winning film? Why choose Zallian? Why the overly dramatic and unsuccessful music and score by James Horner? Why wasn't film editor Wayne Wahrman allowed do his job? And, most of all…why didn't any of the twelve credited producers do their job in reining in an out-of-control director with only three minor prior efforts? Why remake a formerly great film, miscast it and then waste millions promoting it, if no one involved cared about doing their jobs right? This film was on the shelf for over a year before its release, now we know why.


Digital Dogs rating: D for a big Disappointment, wait for cable.

MPAA rating: Rated PG-13 for an intense sequence of violence, sexual content and partial nudity.

Running Time: 120 minutes, but it felt like 145 minutes.

© Digital Dogs



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