The King James Marsh

You know you’re in for a rough ride when a movie names its hero "Elvis” and expects you to take it symbolically. Alas, this is James Marsh’s The King, which not only gives us an archetypal Elvis but some of the most ridiculous plot turns of the year thus far.

Gael Garcia Bernal plays the thus-burdened role, a discharged naval officer who goes looking for his father. He finds him in preacher man David Sandow (William Hurt), who after conceiving Elvis with a prostitute, has cleaned himself up, started his own family and subsequently has no interest in his illegitimate son. Thus our hero does the honourable thing: he seduces his half-sister Mallerie (Pell James) to the ire of her uptight brother Paul (Paul Dano).

The first half-hour or so of this Southern Gothic mishmash is honourably dull but that goes out the window once the boffing and deaths begin — nobody acts the way people normally would, as they’re there to justify the overheated action and not the other way around. Not only is this one of those chaste "serious” movies in which people screw with their clothes on but the talented cast (including Laura Herring as beleaguered Mother Sandow) is defeated by the non-characters and unspeakable dialogue, which caused scattered hilarity at even my critic’s screening.

The film is gunning for tragedy but it barely makes it as farce: nothing comes off as the behaviour of anything other than the Southern-fried clichés to which the filmmakers are inordinately attracted. See it drunk with a group of friends and you might laugh yourself silly but I can’t imagine the sober viewer who might get anything out of it. (Th!nk)