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Movie Review: All the King’s Men

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You don't have to be a psychic to understand how a movie like this comes about. Probably about two or three years ago, a script was making its rounds within the Columbia Pictures' organization. Within the script was a story about an outrageous, but beloved Louisiana Governor who rose from his humble roots to challenge the corrupt government and fight for the rights of the working farmers. The story had its share of deceit, loyalty, and political relevance making it a sure winner. At that point, someone looked to someone else and said, “We are going to make this film, and it is going to win Oscars.” Or at least, that is how it may seem once you see the film.

The script was an adaption of a Robert Penn Warren novel by Steven Zaillian (not a re-write of the 1949 film with the same name, coincidentally.) The higher-ups then went to work, enlisting Zaillian to direct, James Horner and T-Bone Burnett to provide the score, and Avy Kaufman to put together an A-List cast that included the likes of Sean Penn, Jude Law, Anthony Hopkins, Kate Winslet, and others. The end result would be All the King’s Men, a film that seems to have been made with award winning in mind.

The film, for the most part, lives up to that purpose. The plot is interesting, but it feels somewhat prosaic as it sputters along, needing the outlandish exploit's of Penn's character Willie Stark to draw the audience back in after moments of talky melodrama. The performances in the film are strong, as can be expected. Jude Law is the standout, carrying the emotional weight of the film. His performance anchors the film while Sean Penn’s illuminates it. Every time Willie Stark, the eccentric politician, makes a speech, it is electrifying, drawing the audience back in at least for a moment. The rest of the cast is not brilliant, but they seem to fit their roles well. They add value to the film where needed, but there are no standouts.

But strong performances from one or two leading actors do not by itself make a great film; we see them all the time in some very mediocre films. It must be supported by something else in order to ascend to the tops of Oscar glory, but the other elements of the film felt forced, as if the producers cared more about winning awards than about making a film that is rivveting. The score is beautiful, but it is often so loud that it almost overpowers the scene. The cinematography is stylish at certain points, and relatively uneventful at others. The film itself moves along very slowly as well – it’s two hour run time feels more like three hours.

When it comes down to it, All the King’s Men may do exactly what its producers had seemingly intended for it. It may be around come Oscar time. The story is good enough to keep you interested, but nothing more. Sean Penn and Jude Law should be recognized for their extremely strong performances as they carry a film that would be just okay without them. But ultimately, even though I would recommend seeing this one (at least for the sake of being well educated on Oscar night), it is nothing special. Good enough to keep you in your seat until the credits, but no quite good enough to make you want a second helping. It begs the question of whether or not those responsible for this film were just trying too hard.

The Upside: Extremely strong performances from Jude Law and Sean Penn are worth seeing, as they may become relevant during awards season.

The Downside: The film feels like a forced attempt to make an amazing film. That is just a group of producers trying too hard to make “The Film of the Year.”

On the Side: This film could be seen as a remake of a 1949 film with the same name, but Writer/Director Steven Zaillian never saw the original film, and adapted the screenplay solely from Robert Penn Warren's novel. 

Release Date: September 22, 2006

Final Grade: 2.5 Stars

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