All the King’s Men
Rated PG-13; Directed by Steve Zaillian; Starring Sean Penn, Jude Law, Anthony Hopkins, Kate Winslet, Patricia Clarkson, James Gandolfini
“All the King’s Men” won an Academy Award for best movie of 1949. The new version is not going to have that fine distinction. What a shame, because the heart of the story is a good one. Robert Penn Warren’s novel of Louisiana politics is a classic and deserves another shot on the big screen. Unfortunately, screenwriter and director Steve Zaillian. Can only bring us a few thrilling scenes. The rest of the film is a joyless slog. Curses, I wanted this movie to thrill me and the audience.
The story of Willie Stark (Sean Penn), a politician for the people and not the moneyed interests, is told from Frank Burden’s (Jude Law) view. He’s a cynical newspaperman who comes from Louisiana money and likes Stark’s rough ways. The movie plot is all about Stark’s rise to the governor mansion and all the people helped or hurt along the way.
The screenplay relies too much on flashbacks and irritating voiceovers, but there are still some good scenes. The cast does a decent job, but each character isn’t given enough to help us understand their motivations. The one character who does stand out is Willie Stark. Based on the dynamic Huey Long, Stark is a great role and Sean Penn has fun playing him, but he can’t overcome the sloggy direction. Zaillian’s screenplay needed an expert director, and not himself, to give the scenes the required drive to keep us fascinated.
I wanted this movie to be a great movie-going experience. “All the King’s Men” has its moments, but is an overall disappointment.