Not As Good As The Original
Michael B. Druxman | Austin, TX | 01/30/2009
(3 out of 5 stars)
"ALL THE KING'S MEN (1949) is certainly one of the best movies about American politics ever produced. Adapted by director Robert Rossen from Robert Penn Warren's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, which was inspired by the career of Louisiana's demagogue governor, Huey Long, it won Oscars for Best Picture, Actor (Broderick Crawford) and Supporting Actress (Mercedes McCambridge).
When I first heard that Columbia Pictures was going to remake this classic film, I thought they were nuts. After all, no matter how good the new version might be, it would always be competing with the memory of the original which is shown regularly on TV and is also available on DVD.
Despite a stellar all-star cast and a handsome production, the 2006 remake of ALL THE KING'S MEN was met with a mixed, often negative, critical reaction and flopped at the box-office.
Nevertheless, I wanted to judge this film for myself.
The good news is that writer-director Steven Zaillian's film is not the total disaster that some critics have labeled it. It has many strong points and is definitely worth a look.
The bad news is that it is not as good as the original 1949 version.
The 1949 film was neither time, nor place, specific, but this new version does an excellent job in recreating Depression-era Louisiana. It is also closer to Warren's original book than was Rossen's screenplay.
Among the more memorable performances are Jude Law, as Jack Burden, the role originated by John Ireland in 1949, Patricia Clarkson as Sadie Burke (the Mercedes McCambridge role) and Jackie Earle Haley as Sugar Boy, Governor Willie Stark's bodyguard.
Aside from a sometimes sluggish pace, the movie's main failing is the miss-casting of Sean Penn in the central role of Willie Stark.
Penn is one of our finest actors and he does his best in this assignment, but he, unfortunately, lacks the charisma that Crawford brought to the role in the original.
Penn's Willie is just not likable, and I don't see how he could convince his constituents to vote for him.
Anthony Hopkins, Kate Winslet, James Gandolfini, Kathy Baker and Mark Ruffalo are also in the cast.
© Michael B. Druxman"
Robert (Sean) Penn Warren's All the King's Men
Chad A. B. Wilson | Houston, TX | 03/18/2009
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Reading Robert Penn Warren's 1946 novel All the King's Men [2006 Movie Tie-In Edition] is like riding an academic roller coaster through early twentieth century politics. The narrator, Jack Burden, is a student of history, and his journey through life illustrates the character of Willie Stark, the Boss, the Governor of whichever southern state it actually takes place in. Burden's narration is lush, vivid, and sometimes bogs down in its own detailed prose as it describes the landscapes and peoplescapes, even delving into philosophical ramblings about the meaning of a specifically placed finger or a supposed wink.
The book, frankly, borders on genius. It's a difficult read, sure, but it's a great story. It's the narration and description that makes it so good, though, not necessary the story itself. We come to know the characters only through that narration, but they are fully realized by the end.
The 2006 movie doesn't have those strengths. It tries to make a standard story out of the difficult prose and narrative. Not that it makes the novel strictly linear, but it leaves out all of the interesting philosophical meanderings. Jude Law (Jack Burden) tries to insert some of the stuff about the Friend of your Youth (one of the philosophical inserts) into the movie, but it falls flat because we don't get enough of it to fully appreciate it. All of the characters are that way, too: they're all one-sided, even bordering on stock characters.
We do see some brilliance in Sean Penn's Wille Stark, however, at least when he is giving speeches. When he comes out of his shell and attempts to connect with the world, his speeches are good. Watching this movie in 2009 is a strange experience, however, for we have seen the inauguration of Barack Obama, whose speeches sometimes mirrored those of Willie Stark, although his aren't nearly as mean-spirited. Stark represents the new kind of politician that cares for the people and wants to get rid of money-riddled politics. Instead, he wants to do good, even though he will still use corruption, for it is only through bad that good can ever come (at least according to Stark).
We have some good themes here, but most of them are minor. The primary theme is about the purpose of political life and whether politics can remain above the fray. The movie hints that politics is about service, but it cannot be above anything. Instead, it is as debased as any other human endeavor. Therefore, the very nature of political service is debased.
I'm not sure if the movie can be appreciated without having read the novel, for the plot gets a bit confusing, but the theme about politics and service is still evident. Watch it for that alone, but only if you generally vote Democrat. I guess a Republican can enjoy it, too, for it points out that even "idealists" are flawed and are really just as corrupt as any politicians."