Penn Dominates a Handsome "All the King's Men"
- Thursday, September 21, 2006
Release Date: September 22, 2006
Rating: PG-13 (for an intense sequence of violence, sexual content and partial nudity)
Run Time: 120 min.
Director: Steven Zaillian
Actors: Sean Penn, Jude Law, Kate Winslet, Anthony Hopkins, Patricia Clarkson, James Gandolfini, Mark Ruffalo, Jackie Earle Haley
Consider the Curse of Jude Law. Voted one of People magazine’s “Sexiest Men Alive” for 2004, the handsome actor seemed destined for stardom. After some strong supporting roles earlier , the actor’s moment had arrived that year, when he had roles in five feature films – “Alfie,” “The Aviator,” “Closer,” “Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow,” and “I Heart Huckabees.” Most were creative and financial disappointments, and would seem to have nearly extinguished Law’s chances at future leading-man roles.
Now he’s back, starring in a hotly anticipated adaptation of Robert Penn Warren’s “All the King’s Men,” from director Steven Zaillian. Top-billed by Sean Penn, with equal screen time for Law, and supporting work from great character actors Patricia Clarkson and James Gandolfini, the movie looked like a sure-fire Oscar contender. Its literary pedigree and an earlier Oscar-winning adaptation of the book heightened expectations for this latest version.
But that was last year, before “All the King’s Men” was pushed back to a fall 2006 release. More time was needed to edit the film, or so the studio said. Then the film screened at a major film festival to a lukewarm (at best) reception.
All indications were that the Curse of Jude Law had struck again.
So it comes as a relief to discover that this version of “All the King’s Men,” though far from perfect, works just fine as a story of power, corruption and political machinations, with a very human struggle at its heart. The film powerfully evokes a bond between Law’s character, Jack Burden, and his surrogate father, played by Anthony Hopkins. A betrayal of trust between the two men and its troubling outcome make “All the King’s Men” more than a story of well-intentioned politics gone bad. The film is about the power of father figures to develop character and trust – and how our flaws and human frailty can lead to tragic consequences.
Sean Penn stars, brilliantly, as Willie Stark, a young Louisiana politician plucked by powerful forces to run for governor of the state. The ride to the top has a rough start, as Stark’s campaign – chronicled by reporter Jack Burden (Law), who will eventually go to work for Stark – fails to capture the public’s attention. Only after Willie publicly tosses aside a close aide (James Gandolfini) does he hit his stride as a populist phenomenon, promising roads, bridges and hospitals to his “hick” constituents.
“People are saying God stepped in on Willie Stark’s side,” says one Stark partisan, and the politician takes up the call, exhorting the populace. “If you don’t vote, you don’t matter!” he shouts from his campaign-stop stage. “It’s up to you, and me, and God.”
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