Based on the Robert Penn Warren novel. The life of populist Southerner Willie Stark, a political creature loosely based on Governor Huey Long of Louisiana.
Sean Penn, Jude Law, Anthony Hopkins, Kate Winslet, Mark Ruffalo, Patricia Clarkson, James Gandolfini, Jackie Earle Haley, Kathy Baker, Talia Balsam, Travis Champagne, Frederic Forrest, Paul Desmond, Kevin Dunn, Thomas McCarthy
We watched this movie on DVD last weekend.
AS is not uncommon the critics slammed this movie and I enjoyed it.
I love movies that transport me to an exotic place and a distant time. “All the King’s Men” lushly recreates mid-century Louisiana. There’s a lot of money up on the screen, beautifully lit and photographed: vintage, boat-like automobiles, forties and fifties fashions and fabrics, Spanish moss, ante-bellum mansions, a bronze bas relief map of Louisiana, set in a floor, that is put to amazing use.
I’m a political junkie, so I went to see this movie in spite of the bad reviews. It didn’t let me down. It’s a political soap opera from the first frame to the last. Deals cut in smoke filled rooms, double crosses, fiery speeches to enthralled crowds.
Sean Penn’s performance has been panned – too much arm waving. I loved the arm waving. Penn’s arm waving doesn’t come across as forced or inorganic. This is a man who can barely contain himself — he’s a human tornado. The historical figure with whom Penn’s character, Willy Stark, is associated, Huey Long, was a powerhouse builder of bridges, hospitals, and roads. Penn conveys that kinetic energy and passion.
Thank God someone was willing to write a script in which people take some risks with language, communicate complex ideas, employ figures of speech! I loved the flowery language. This is the South, after all, from several decades ago, and, yeah, those folks did love their language skills.
Another reviewer denounced the film’s score as bombastic. It is bombastic, wonderfully so. It suits the subject matter perfectly. This isn’t a movie about a shrinking violet who sits at home and writes poetry; it’s a movie about a sweaty man who takes power and makes his mark.
Okay, so why didn’t I give the movie ten stars? Sean Penn’s character is fully realized, but the other characters are not. “All the King’s Men” is a big, fat soap opera. There’s a lot of sex, threats, lust, longing, suicide, and betrayal to fit into two hours. The film should have been longer so that characters other than Willy could have been fleshed out.
Patricia Clarkson is a case in point. Her character sets some key events in motion, but she’s barely there — either the character or the actress.
Anthony Hopkins comes across as just that — Anthony Hopkins — not the character he is playing. While everyone else does their best to produce a Southern accent, Hopkins insists on speaking with a British accent, and this sticks out like a sore thumb.
Kate Winslet and Mark Ruffalo are meant to be, like Blanche Dubois, representatives of degenerate Southern aristocracy, but they both seem entirely too robust to be degenerating. Jude Law is better in a similar role as a member of the fading aristocratic class. Law always seems to do well in roles where he is punished by, rather than enjoys, his beauty. Just so here. Too bad that, in key scenes, Hopkins doesn’t create any chemistry with him.
The lack of development of secondary characters — and everyone, compared to Willie Stark, is secondary here — made the film oddly emotionally unmoving to me. Again, there are scenes that contain the kind of elements that might have packed an emotional wallop that left me dry eyed.
Willy Stark’s rise to power is built on the poverty of the citizens of Louisiana. The movie didn’t convey that poverty to me. According to one website devoted to Huey Long, Lousiana had three hundred miles of paved road, two bridges, and high illiteracy rates when Long took office. If true, those stats are startling.
Finally, something else was missing, for me. Whenever one observes a charismatic politician, there is always the question: Does he really care about the people? Or is he just addicted to the adulation? I never had that question about Sean Penn’s Willy Stark, as I do about, say, Bill Clinton. Willy Stark, here, is imperfect, but sincere. He wants to help his people.