King of the Hill

King of the Hill

Directed by Steven Soderbergh. Starring Jesse Bradford, Jeroen Krabbé, Lisa Eichhorn, Joseph Chrest, Spalding Gray, Elizabeth McGovern, Karen Allen, Adrien Brody. (1993, PG-13, 103 min.)

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Oct. 8, 1993

Set in Depression-era Missouri, Soderbergh's third feature follows the daily travails of young Aaron (Bradford), an intelligent, resourceful boy whose family is straddling a precarious line between by-the-night hotels and the omnipresent Hoovervilles that surround their town. When a series of setbacks first send his salesman father (Krabbe) on the road, then his consumptive mother (Eichhorn) to a sanitarium, and his younger brother Sullivan (Cameron Boyd) to an uncle's house, Aaron is left in the care of the various odd characters who populate his dilapidated hotel. Worldly pal Lester (Brody), a surrogate big-brother with a penchant for rum-running and petty theft, is the closest thing to family still within shouting distance, but even so, Aaron, by wits alone, manages to keep himself out of too much trouble. Painfully aware of his family's dire financial straits, he's shy and withdrawn at school, even going so far as to give his teacher (Allen) a false address (the swanky Carleton Court Apartments -- his father's oft-mentioned dream home). A far cry from his earlier films sex, lies, and videotape and Kafka, Soderbergh skillfully pulls off what could have ended up as a sappy glob of treacly nostalgia. Instead, the director populates his young hero's chaotic world with genuinely disturbing people, images, and events. Aaron routinely sees his penniless neighbors forcibly evicted from their tiny rooms while The Management confiscates their worldly goods, and drunken neighbor Mr. Mungo (Gray, in yet another excellent character role) is a life lesson all to himself, with booze, whores, and an almost palpable sense of gay despair surrounding him constantly. As Aaron, Bradford is genuinely charming, filled with the buoyant hesitancy of youth, unsure of where his next meal may be coming from but bursting with cautious exuberance. Carefully filled out with small, polished character performances, Soderbergh's film is a lyrical piece of well-crafted passion from a filmmaker who seems never to have heard of the term “sophomore slump.”

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