All The King's Men

Steven Zaillian

BY Allan TongPublished Feb 15, 2007

This remake of the 1949 classic is one of the biggest disappointments of the year. Jude Law, Patricia Clarkson, James Gandolfini and Anthony Hopkins head a large, A-list cast. And while the big budgets have faithfully recreated Depression-era Louisiana, the script begs for a rewrite. The movie is verbose, its visual storytelling is sloppy and, worst of all, Sean Penn is woefully miscast. One of America’s finest actors, Penn delivers an impassioned performance of a character we don’t care about. Penn plays Willie Stark, a fictionalised version of legendary Louisiana governor Huey P. Long, who rose to power by fighting "big oil” and "corrupt business” only to turn bad himself. Penn never seizes our imagination nor wins our sympathy; his rise to Governor goes uncelebrated despite the music swelling on the soundtrack. Director Zaillian appears to have taken too much on his shoulders by also writing — characters like Law’s, who portrays a cynical journalist, are mired in cliché. Talented performers such as Clarkson and Gandolfini play one-dimensional roles, in this case a supporter and an enemy of Stark, respectively. Pity. The movie is like an elaborately wrapped box concealing a meagre gift inside. To call this a "special edition” DVD is laughable hype. Speaking of hype, the embarrassing wealth of special features consists of a perpetual round of backslapping that carries all the insight of a circle jerk. Even the featurette on Robert Penn Warren, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of All The King’s Men, suffers from an unending stream of shallow praise that reveals little. Only the bio on Huey Long is worth watching. This 22-minute featurette captures Long’s charisma, cunning and vindictiveness far better than the 128 minutes of Penn as Stark in the film. (Sony)

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