|All the King's Men (2006)
Starring: Sean Penn, Jude Law, Kate Winslet, James Gandolfini, Mark Ruffalo, Patricia Clarkson, Anthony Hopkins
Director: Steve Zaillian
“All the King’s Men” desperately wants to be an Oscar-caliber film. It’s got the award-winning source material (written by Robert Penn Warren), the accomplished screenwriter (Steven Zaillian) and a cast that most directors could only dream of. Unfortunately, none of these elements actually pan out the way they’re supposed to. The story comes across as having something socially important to say (but never gets around to actually saying it), and the actors are all horribly miscast – including Sean Penn and Jude Law, who, despite their great performances, have no business playing these characters.
Based on the book of the same name (and not the 1949 film starring Broderick Crawford), “All the King’s Men” is the story of Willie “The Boss” Stark (Penn), a good-‘ol-boy from Louisiana whose rise to power as the Southern state’s governor also led to his eventual downfall. Originally persuaded to run for office by the small-minded Tiny Duffy (James Gandolfini), Stark soon discovers that his candidacy is only a ploy meant to split the vote in the upcoming election. Determined not to play the part of the martyr, Stark changes up his campaign strategy and builds a new platform directed towards the common people. Suffice it to say, he wins by a landside.
In fact, it’s actually by the largest percentage in state history. But when Stark begins dipping into the pockets of the oil-hungry fat cats up on Capitol Hill in order to build new highways and schools, the governmental aristocrats attempt to impeach the newly-appointed governor before he goes too far. Prepared to fight fire with fire, Stark enlists in the help of an idealist journalist, Jack Burden (Law), to join the administration and dig up dirt on the opposition’s most respected member, Judge Irwin (Anthony Hopkins). Of course, this is where the film begins to fall apart, and instead of continuing Stark’s semi-inspiration tale, director Zaillian goes in a completely different direction. The rest of the film focuses mostly on Jack’s past, namely his relationship with former love, Anne Stanton (Kate Winslet), and her despondent brother, Adam (Mark Ruffalo).
Regrettably, none of this is all too interesting, and instead, you end up liking the guy you’re supposed to despise (Stark, who’s real-life counterpart, Huey Long, was a much more corrupt politician), and despising the guy you’re supposed to like (Durden). Even worse off is the director’s decision to use a predominantly British cast in a Southern American period drama, because while some of the actors try their hardest to employ faithful accents, most of them come off sounding horrendous. Law’s is probably the best of the bunch (which doesn’t surprise me, given that he’s a good actor), but the fact that Sir Anthony Hopkins doesn’t even try, is just downright offensive. And then there’s the case of James Gandolfini, who does his best with inserting a generic Southern twang in the last word of all his lines, but whose voice still comes through as pure East Coast.
Once considered a front-runner to clean up during award season, the film has since fallen hard on its ass, and so it’s really no surprise that it was pushed from its original release of December 2005 to the lukewarm month of September. Much like the recently-released Brian De Palma flick, “The Black Dahlia,” “All the King’s Men” is yet another cluttered mess unworthy of hanging with the big boys. Unfortunately, there hasn’t been a single film released thus far that actually deserves the title, and with only three months to go, it’s not looking very promising. Bet on Sean Penn’s masterful performance to steal the film a spot as a Best Picture nominee, but don’t plan on it winning.
Despite a poor outing at the box office, the single-disc release of "All the King's Men" is loaded with bonus material including five production featurettes, deleted scenes and an alternate ending. Sadly, no commentary was recorded by director Steve Zailian or any of the cast.