All The King's Men

Steven Zaillian

BY Erin OkePublished Mar 15, 2007

All the King’s Men, based on the Robert Penn Warren novel and remade from the 1949 Oscar winning picture, starts off promisingly, following the rise to power of Louisiana politician Willie Stark (Sean Penn), as seen through the eyes of journalist Jack Burden (Jude Law). Stark is a straight-talking hick who wins massive support for his gubernatorial bid by galvanising the poor vote with a mixture of honesty, anger and folksy charm. However, the power quickly goes to his head and he turns to manipulation and intimidation tactics to stay at the top. He particularly focuses his manipulation on Burden, who leaves the newspaper to work for Stark, by forcing him to betray friends from his privileged upbringing. The film begins with some interesting ideas about the relationship between journalism and politics, and the subtleties of corruption and morality, but it becomes convoluted and more than a little heavy handed as it switches focuses to the mysteries of Burden's past. Penn gives a powerful performance as Willie Stark, but his transformation from morally upstanding city counsellor to power-mad governor holding Hitler-esque night time rallies happens unbelievably quickly. Jude Law is characteristically blank, making it a little hard to care about the revelations about his personal life. Anthony Hopkins gives a dignified turn as Judge Irwin, Burden’s childhood mentor who Stark wants to discredit. Kate Winslet and Mark Ruffalo are underused in underdeveloped characters as siblings and childhood friends of Burden’s who also become embroiled in Stark’s world. The film’s ending is so over-the-top that the ideas introduced in the early scenes of the film lose their impact and credibility.

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