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All the King's Men

Review Written by: William Grady
Film: D+
What the MPAA Rating should be: PG-13 (for some very bloody violence and some language)

Directed by: Steven Zaillian
Written by: Steven Zaillian
Based on the book by: Robert Penn Warren
Produced by: Steven Zaillian, Ken Lemberger, Mike Medavoy and Arnold Messer
Starring: Sean Penn, Jude Law, Anthony Hopkins, Kate Winslet, Patricia Clarkson
Studio: DreamWorks Pictures

No one who sees Steven Zallian's awfully reviewed All the King's Men this late in the year watches it with high expectations. My expectations were especially low. This should have helped Zallian - and it did, in a way. I went out of my way to notice some of the good things in his movie. It's not unredeemable or terrible or awful. It's just bad. It could have been worse.

Indeed, it's not all bad. I approve the crackling electricity of the scene towards the beginning where Sean Penn, as Willie Stark, denoucnes the rich in front of his mob of "hicks" at a carnival speech. I approve that brief, surprisingly beautiful shot of Kate Winslet slipping underwater, barely lit by moonlight in the darkness, implying that famous shot from Apocalypse Now played in reverse. I approve of the amazingly sexy dance-on-ice performed by Nicole Bobek. And I approve that interesting, albeit strange and pointless, touch of showing the blood of the two bodies in the final scene running between cracks and then meeting. I approve, I approve.

Oh, but that's about it, I'm afraid.

All the King's Men is flattened by terrible performances. In the lead is Sean Penn, who we can actually see has huge globs of spit flying out of his mouth in some of the more forceful speeches. Sean can yell well and he sounds fairly manic and a little deranged. It's not quite laughable. His performance when he speaks in lower tones, however, is quite laughable. Jude Law as well looks amazingly bored throughout most of the movie. He does a little moping here and there. Kate Winslet - didn't I say Kate Winslet should stay away from large budget films? Kate hasn't given a performance this bad since her turn in Titanic. To be fair, it's hard to keep a straight face when you're wairing a wig more horrendously fake than Barbara Stanwyck's in Double Indemnity. Patricia Clarkson? Blehck. She looks stunningly out of place. On the sidelines, Mark Ruffalo does some Shakespearean overacting and some moping. James Gandolfini plays James Gandolfini and while we're on the subject he plays James Gandolfini badly. Anthony Hopkins is very Anthony Hopkins. Oh yes - Jackie Earl Haley is here too. He plays Stark's bodyguard. He stands in the corner of frames and looks very menacing. That's all.

All the King's Men is more poorly edited than you can believe. Take, for example, a scene with Kate Winslet.
We see her undressing. Cut to: She's lying nude on the bed, Jude Law is looking at her. Cut to: she's redressing. Cut to: Jude Law driving in his car, remembering the scene. Cut to: she's lying on the bed naked again and this time Law is sitting on the side talking to her. Cut to: she's redressing again.

Of course, most of the critics have pointed out the Big Flaw is that the film doesn't show how Stark changes from hero to sleazeball. I wouldn't call it the Big Flaw, but they're right. Stark's character changes so abruptly we're left sctratching our heads. Note also the choice to film the Big Important Assasination Scene in black and white - stupid. Or even worse, to show flashbacks of random actors staring into the camera, they're voices echoing some random remark that's supposed to be a revelation to the main character (but we guessed it already, of course). All the King's Men thinks of itself as the most best thing since sliced bread and because of this, ii allows itself to get away with every phony trick in the book. Strange, a decision to begin the movie with a flashforward to a relatively unimportant scene about one third of the way through. In fact, there's a lot of flashing about. Forward, backward, forward, backward, UGH.

This isn't a film that's worth anyone's time. Not 2 hours and 8 minutes. For 2 hours and 8 minutes I spent wondering what better ways I could have spent 2 hours and 8 minutes. Like I said, it's not unredeemable, but if you're gonna watch the good parts of this movie in any way, watch them on YouTube.

Sean Penn "sounds fairly manic and a little deranged" in Steven Zaillian's All the King's Men.
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