“All The King’s Men”, written and directed by Steve Zaillian and based on the book by Robert Penn Warren, was previously made into a film starring Broderick Crawford as Stark. I have never seen the original, so I am unable to make a comparison. The new version is good, but given the caliber of the actors involved, the writing and the subject matter, you would expect it to be great.
The film has a basic message: Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely.
Power in Hollywood is sometimes represented by who you can get to act in your films. Director Steve Zaillian must have some power because he has assembled a top notch cast. From Sean Penn on down, the cast features a host of actors who have created memorable performances in almost everything they have ever done. As Stark, Penn does a great job of bringing the man’s eccentricities and vulnerabilities to light. Full of bravado, Stark soon learns he has a lot of power and doesn’t hesitate to use it. Starting out as a local small town whistleblower, he doesn’t change all that much when he becomes Governor. He is still loud and full of himself. But as Governor, he realizes people are willing to look past certain things. For instance, his wife (Talia Shire) rarely accompanies him and he takes every opportunity to have affairs, starting with Sadie (Clarkson) who is upset when she learns Stark slept with an exotic dancer. As Stark realizes his power, he becomes more confident in his ability to sweet talk people into doing things against their will. Jude Law is quite good as Stark’s right hand man, his Man Friday. Throughout, Stark asks him to do crooked things, yet he soon agrees to most. Law also provides the narration for the film, giving some color and flavor to the proceedings. Kate Winslet is good as Anne, Jack’s first and probably only love. There is a development with her character late in the film which seems a little tacked on, but otherwise, she is fine. Gandolfini seems to have fun as a Louisiana politico and Patricia Clarkson is also good as the eye of Stark’s affection who becomes upset when he cheats on her. Mark Ruffalo plays the pivotal role of Adam, the doctor and son of a former governor, who plays a part in Stark’s plan to reestablish respectability. The one problem in the cast is Anthony Hopkins who…
Corrupts his character by not even attempting a Southern accent. Hopkins is often regarded as one of the best actors working in film today. Yet, in “All The King’s Men”, he is the one actor who doesn’t even attempt a Southern accent, retaining his distinct British accent. This wouldn’t matter much, but his character is rather bland. It almost seems like Hopkins is going for a characterization the complete opposite of everyone else. He is quiet, calm and reserved when everyone else is over the top. As the story takes place in the mid-50s, in Louisiana, it seems more fitting to have loud bombastic characters. At least characters who seem to have a little life left in them. Every state has some history of corruption in the government, and Louisiana is certainly no exception. It just seems like a quite reserved character is a little out of place in this environment.
Absolutely the best thing about the film is the look. Every scene is filled with saturated colors which perfectly evoke both the feeling of the time and place and also pay homage to the films of this period. Director Zaillian has a real eye for detail and style. He is also a gifted writer, and he creates memorable characters, but the details of the story get a little lost. Also as a director, he has a little difficulty with the actors. They are all good, but given the caliber of this cast, they should be great.
“All The King’s Men” is a good film, and a good way to start of the fall movie season. Hopefully, this is a good sign of what is to come. Hopefully, if the quality continues to rise, we will have one of the best movie seasons in a long time.