All the King's Men

All the King's Men

2006, PG-13, 120 min. Directed by Steve Zaillian. Starring Sean Penn, Jude Law, Kate Winslet, James Gandolfini, Mark Ruffalo, Patricia Clarkson, Anthony Hopkins, Jackie Earle Haley, Kathy Baker.

REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Sept. 22, 2006

Despite an A-list cast and director, it's astonishing how bad this movie is. It's furthermore astonishing since it's a remake of the 1949 Academy Award-winner for best motion picture, which was itself an adaptation of poet laureate Robert Penn Warren's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. Loosely based on the career of Louisiana Governor Huey P. Long, All the King's Men is a story about the insidious dangers of demagoguery, a morality tale about absolute power corrupting absolutely. Penn acts up a storm, and his performance as Willie Stark is actually the only redeeming aspect of the movie, even if his carriage bears more resemblance to the gangster fury inhabited by his brother Chris Penn in the movie The Funeral than it does to a larger-than-life Louisiana populist. Yet Penn's accent is often muddled, and the actors around him contribute a veritable gumbo of faux bayou accents. Rarely has such a great array of acting talent been so misused: The characters are not so much bad as they are wan and unformed. And none are likeable. Writer-director Zaillian (Searching for Bobby Fischer) never manages to assemble his actors into a unified whole, and they flail away like drowning souls engaged in various movies of their own making. The primary problem with the film lies in the script (or perhaps something that remained on a cutting-room floor). The narrative is missing a crucial sequence in which Stark is transformed from naive populist to power-wielding thug. Stark is an inscrutable character otherwise, and the tale loses all moral dimension. Presumably, the movie is meant to serve as a modern-day parable, but there is no moral to be drawn here, no resemblance to any known reality. The movie contains lots of sound and fury, but alas, it signifies nothing.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More Sean Penn Films
Licorice Pizza
PTA's San Fernando Valley memories are blurrily sentimental

Richard Whittaker, Dec. 24, 2021

Flag Day
The Penn family gets in the skin of a counterfeiter and his daughter

Trace Sauveur, Aug. 27, 2021

More by Marjorie Baumgarten
Happening
Stunning French tale of a woman seeking an abortion is depressingly timely

May 13, 2022

From the Archives: Organizing Outside the System – Deborah Shaffer and <i>The Wobblies</i>
From the Archives: Organizing Outside the System – Deborah Shaffer and The Wobblies
Our 1981 interview with the filmmaker behind the classic doc

May 3, 2022

KEYWORDS FOR THIS FILM

All the King's Men, Steve Zaillian, Sean Penn, Jude Law, Kate Winslet, James Gandolfini, Mark Ruffalo, Patricia Clarkson, Anthony Hopkins, Jackie Earle Haley, Kathy Baker

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Behind the scenes at The Austin Chronicle

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle