Sunday, October 01, 2006

My Take - All the King's Men

A Mini Movie Review
By: A. L. “Toni” Anderson

Sean Penn (Mystic River - 2003) stars in this 2006 version of All the King’s Men, drawn from the 1946 novel by Pulitzer Prize recipient and poet laureate consultant Robert Penn Warren. “Based on a true story” seems to be a popular theme for movies this year. This film, and its 1949 Academy Award winning predecessor, are loosely based on the turbulent political career of Louisiana governor Huey “Kingfish” Long. Unfortunately, this version does not compare favorably to the original. The film is written and directed by Steven Zaillian (Schindler’s List -1993).

All the King’s Men tells the story of Willie Stark, a minor politician and “an honest man” who goes into politics with altruistic intentions. He laments that the "crackers" of Louisiana are not properly represented, and that the rich and the major corporations are further fattening their pockets at the expense of the poor. The catalyst for his ascension to governor is an incident which threatens the well-being of the schoolchildren of the state. Stark vows that if he is elected, he will correct the political system that allows such incidents to occur. As Stark climbs up the ladder of success, however, he finds that the old adage about “absolute power” applies to himself.

The 1949 version of the movie (starring Broderick Crawford, Mercedes McCambridge, and John Ireland) more vividly describes the relationships between Willie Stark (Penn) and the people who surround him. The more recent version seems only to be about Stark, minimizing the roles of reporter Jack Burden (Jude Law of The Road to Perdition - 2002), campaign aide Sadie Burke (Patricia Clarkson of Good Night and Good Luck - 2005), and paramour Anne Stanton (Kate Winslet of Titanic - 1997). The one role that is maximized in the recent film is that of Judge Irwin (Anne’s uncle Judge Stanton in the original version), portrayed by the illustrious Sir Anthony Hopkins, who requires no introduction. This film is so clearly centered on Penn’s character that one might wonder even what “men” are referred to in the title.

The 2006 version skips over the minor events that lead Stark down the path to destruction, and practically ignores his wife and son. The story is nearly unrecognizable, and most importantly, does not illustrate the many factors that turn an honest man into a nationally infamous model of a crooked politician.

Penn does an excellent job in his role, but despite the interest drummed up by well edited previews, the only real value this new film has is for comparison purposes. Watch the 1949 film instead, and skip this one entirely. [2:00]

♠ ♠ ♠ ♠ ♠

[© 10/01/2006]


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