Menu [hide]
Toggle  Wiki
Online users

All the King's Men / 2006

print PDF


US, 2006, 128 minutes, Colour.
Sean Penn, Jude Law, Kate Winslett, James Gandolfini, Mark Ruffalo, Patricia Clarkson, Kathy Baker, Jackie Earle Hayley, Anthony Hopkins, Kevin Dunn, Frederick F. Forest, Tom Aldredge, Talia Balsam, Eileen Ryan.
Directed by Stephen Zaillian.

There seems to be something missing from this film. The early part moves very quickly, too quickly, to establish Willie Stark as the Governor of Louisiana. Too much seems to happen off-screen that one wonders whether material was filmed and is now on the cutting room floor – or in waiting for the DVD of the Director’s Cut. The other strange aspect is that the film, which seems to be centred on Willie Stark and his administering of the state, often leaves him behind for some time and focuses on his aide, Jack Burden. And in the Jack Burdern interludes, there are a number of flashbacks. This has the potential to confuse but further interrupts the flow of the plot. One wonders whether it might not have been better – and more dramatically cogent – to have a more linear film which would be more intelligible, audience friendly and more powerful in its development.

The potential is there. The previous version of Robert Penn Warren’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel, based on the life and career of Huey Long, governor of Louisiana in the 1930s, won the Oscar for Best Film of 1949 and acting awards for Broderick Crawford and Mercedes McCambridge?. Its writer director, Robert Rossen won a Golden Globe.

It is not as if the present writer director is not a good creator. Witness his adaptation of Schindler’s List. Zaillian also directed Searching for Bobby Fischer and A Civil Action.

The ingredients are certainly there but do not draw the audience in as would be expected. Sean Penn is sometimes very powerful as the upstart Stark, although his crowd-rousing speeches have a lot of flailing arm desperation. Jude Law is more of a background person as Burden, which makes his adherence to Stark’s cause and his attempts to dig up dirt on his judge godfather (Anthony Hopkins) the more surprising and alarming. His voiceover is meant to offer something of a conscience report on what is going on even if he does not practice what he declares. To that extent, his performance is effective, keeping the more extraverted histrionics for Penn.

Also in the cast are Kate Winslett (though her relationship with Stark is underdeveloped), Patricia Clarkson (whose presence in Stark’s life is not really developed either) and Mark Ruffalo as a doctor who brings the rise and rise of Stark to a climax. There is an eerie portrayal by Jackie Earl Haley of a silent chauffeur-gunman.

The film is not uninteresting, especially in its reflection on American politics and the South, but one wonders what it might have been.

1. The novel of Robert Penn Warren and his Pulitzer Prize? The 1930 Oscar-winning film? The role of a remake – and its relevance? American politics, corruption at the beginning of the 21st century?

2. The title, the Humpty Dumpty nursery rhyme, the application to Willie Stark?

3. Louisiana, the 40s and 50s, the countryside, the cities, the mansions, the political buildings? The recreation of government? The musical score?

4. Willie Stark, audience response, becoming a hero? The listeners reading into this politician their hopes and willing for achievement? His social concern? From the common people, in the county? His lack of moral stance? Openness to corruption? His justifications? Willie Stark in himself, relative values? His relationships, his wife and son, Sadie? The inevitability of his assassination?

5. The structure of the film: Jack Burden and his voice-over, his story, Willie Stark’s story, equal, intercutting? Flashbacks and flashbacks within flashbacks? Audiences and their emotional response to the characters? The situations?

6. Sean Penn’s performance as Willie Stark, Stark in himself, his background, family, the land, social issues and concern, his skills with people, the meeting with Burden, attracting him, getting him to join his cause? The cultivation of people, his political action, use of money, deals, speeches? The responses? The cumulative effect of his speeches? His style of rhetoric, body language, arms flailing? His capacity for persuading people, promises? The tenuous relationship with his wife? His admiration for his son? The election, people’s expectations, his exercise of power? Using people? Funds? Payments to people? His using Jack Burden? Sadie and her loyalty? Tiny Duffy and his presence in the entourage? Burden accompanying him to the striptease shows, his obsession and attraction? Sugar as his driver? His wanting to play God, controlling behaviour? His wanting information on Judge Irwin? Using Burden? No scruple? The plan for the hospital, Doctor Stanton as his front? The dedication and standing with Doctor Stanton? His meetings with Anne, the relationship (and this not initially made explicit in the film)? The scholarship? The concern about impeachment, the information on the judge, the vote in the House, his press conference, exuding confidence – and his being shot?

7. Jack Burden’s story, the voice-over, his moral conscience and lack of it, his comment on himself, the background of his family, his mother and his visits to her, her love for her son, the judge as the father figure, the catapult, fishing, being a second father? The irony of the final revelation that he was his father? His listening to Stark, his own studies and background, joining Stark’s entourage? His distaste, yet doing Stark’s will? The importance of the confrontation with the judge, his own personal feelings, his research, the libraries, getting information, visiting the bank manager, sister of the dead banker? Accumulating the evidence? The questioning of his loyalty to Stark, the way that he was recruited? His relationship with Sadie and discussions? With Tiny Duffy? The flashbacks to childhood and his relationship with Anne, her being forward, the memories, the bonds, the sexual history – and his impotence? His upset at her relationship with Stark? Adam, his admiration for him? The three and their life together, the scenes of them and their happiness in each other’s company? His going to his mother, confronting the judge, the news of the judge’s suicide? His philosophy of life, observing the assassination? The end – and his future?

8. The political background, the parties, Tiny Duffy, corruption, the leads, the boss type, Stark’s presence, the politicians, the vote in the House and their reasons for voting? Tiny Duffy as governor?

9. Sadie, in herself, her work, loyalty to Stark, the relationship, her jealousies?

10. Anne, the daughter of her father, reputation, wealth? Her life, flashbacks and the relationship with Adam, with Jack? Her relationship with Stark, the glimpses of her? The assassination?

11. Adam, his bitterness, memories of the past, the bonds with Jack, with Anne? An upright man, his lifestyle, apartment, Burden’s visit? His life, dedication as a doctor, agreement to support Stark, the hospital, realising that he was being used as a front, his disillusionment, shooting Stark, his own death?

12. Jack’s mother, her life, the absence of his father, her reliance on the judge, the judge as a second father?

13. The judge, the initial visit, his refusal to back down to Stark’s demands? The discussions, the memories, his being a father figure, the fishing, the catapult? The truth, his having something to hide, his past behaviour, the documents, the banker, the death of his partner, the sister, the note and the letter? In the south, the ambiguity? The discussion with Burden, his death – and the revelations he was Jack’s father?

14. The investigations, Stark not believing that they were a threat, his wanting to thwart them, the vote, his reaction?

15. The tableau of the two deaths, the interconnection between Adam and Stark?

16. A glimpse of American politics, the 20th century, the past, the relevance for the 21st century? The film as a parable and as a warning?

Created by: coffey last modification: Monday 27 of April, 2009 [02:58:25 UTC] by malone

Language: en