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The King - Review

Gael Garcia Bernal in The King

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Interactive menus, Enhanced for WideScreen TV, Subtitles for hard of hearing (English), Bonus footage, Trailers, ‘Making of’ documentary, Production notes, Dolby 2.0 stereo audio track.

GAEL Garcia Bernal creates one of the most chilling psychopaths in recent memory in The King, a richly absorbing Gothic parable that examines the corruption of innocence and the power of religious conviction.

As newly discharged sailor Elvis, Bernal provides an enigmatic presence as he ventures back “home” to meet his father, David (William Hurt), a reformed hellraiser who has now found God and preaches at an evangelical Southern church.

Initially spurned, Elvis proceeds to revisit the sins of his father in the most terrifying way possible, striking at the heart of David’s family in clinical fashion while providing an outwardly endearing presence that makes him impossible to dislike.

Much of The King’s power lies in the strength of its performances, which are universally excellent and which serve to embellish the challenging nature of the material.

Hurt, especially, offers a richly complex insight into the deeply religious David whose blind devotion to his faith threatens to bring about the collapse of everyone around him.

Though initially cold towards Elvis, in a bid to protect his family from learning about his past, he slowly welcomes him into his circle without realising that the seeds of his own purgatory have already been sewn.

For having been knocked back by his father, Elvis begins a sexual relationship with his 16-year-old half-sister Malerie (Pell James) without informing her who he is.

The affair, though clearly wrong, offers Malerie a sexual awakening that increases her self-confidence but makes her blind to what’s going on around her and James is excellent at balancing the demands of such a difficult role.

Her relationship is immediately frowned upon by her brother, Paul (Paul Dano), who attempts to intervene with tragic consequences, while the family’s mother (Laura Mulholland Drive Harring) attempts to make sense of the changes happening before her.

The King marks the first feature from British documentary film-maker James Marsh but is so assured that it has to rate as one of the most striking debuts of the year.

It’s not easy to watch at times but it does confront some difficult issues in a sensitive and intelligent fashion, providing viewers with plenty to think about ahead of its chilling conclusion.

The religious themes are cleverly handled so as not to appear preachy or judgemental, while the coming-of-age material is frank but never voyeuristic.

The result is a film that is likely to haunt viewers for some time to come, such is its consistent ability to shock without ever resorting to cheap horror tactics. As such, it comes highly recommended.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 106 mins

  1. Well done, both the film and your review. My husband and I saw The King without knowing a thing about it, and the reviews we’ve since read got it all wrong. It’s like they didn’t even see the film.
    Jack Foley’s review is spot on. What a film. Can’t believe it was Marsh’s first feature. One thing he didn’t mention was how visually brilliant a production it was – cinematically, the choice of locations, (that surreal neon black and red computerised ‘cross’ outside the church), even the details like the textures and patterns of Elvis’s pathetic motel room. We live in London (husband English) and could see how this was America seen from British eyes.

    This is one film that stays with you long after you’ve seen it.

    JC Adams    May 22    #