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All The King's Men - Review

Sean Penn in All The King's Men

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 2 out of 5

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: The Making Of ‘All The King’s Men’; Making Of Featurettes; Deleted Scenes; Alternative Ending.

JUST as power can corrupt, so the worthiest of movies can become the dullest of experiences.

All The King’s Men is exactly that kind of movie – an ambitious remake of Robert Rossen’s 1949 political classic that takes a terrific cast and hopelessly squanders any of its potential.

Much of the fault lies with writer-director Steve Zaillian, who seems unsure how to handle the demands of both a big cast and a multi-layered story.

Hence, far from delivering the big screen fireworks expected of such a top-notch production, All The King’s Men barely musters a whimper such is the laboured nature of proceedings.

The film focuses on emerging politician Willie Stark (Sean Penn) as he is elected Governor of Louisiana by pledging to bring his ‘hick’ followers everything they need (from roads and bridges to schools).

Once in power, however, he is forced to enter into shady dealings to stay there and quickly attracts the wrath of the businessmen and corporations he has annoyed along the way. When a leading judge (Anthony Hopkins) threatens to bring Stark down, the politician is forced to resort to increasingly desperate measures.

Helping him do so is Stark’s closest aide, Jack (Jude Law), who has kept a close eye on the governor from his early career. But given that the judge in question also happens to be Jack’s surrogate father, the former journalist must make a difficult decision.

It’s at this point that Zaillian’s movie loses its grip on the audience, allowing events to unfold from Jack’s perspective rather than seeing just how power corrupts Stark.

For as intriguing as Jack’s dilemma becomes, he’s also forced to contend with the re-appearance of a lost love (Kate Winslet) and her brother (Mark Ruffalo), who both fall prey to Stark’s political game-playing.

As Jack is put through the emotional wringer, Zaillian wastes too much time examining his mental state rather than driving the story forward.

As a result, Penn is largely wasted as Stark, reduced to horrible speech making and barking out orders in hysterical fashion, and Winslet and Ruffalo aren’t afforded enough screentime to make an impact.

Law looks suitably perplexed but is forced to explain too much to the audience in the form of a voiceover and try as hard as he might, his character is simply the least interesting of those involved.

The predicatable nature of the story does little to help and the ‘shock’ ending fails to carry any impact beyond signalling to the audience that their torment is finally at an end.

What makes All The King’s Men all the more frustrating is the way it’s obviously been primed for the awards season. One gets the feeling that it’s trying too hard to push all the right buttons at the expense of providing anything that’s entertaining.

Given the current political climate and the many relevant points that Robert Penn Warren’s source novel had to make, it’s failure to engage on any level is utterly unforgivable.

Certificate: 12A
Running time: 2hrs