"All the King's Men" fail in remake

Sept. 27, 2006, midnight | By Gus Woods | 14 years, 2 months ago

Second adaptation of classic political novel incoherent and overwrought

Without reading Robert Penn Warren's 1946 novel or seeing the original 1949 film adaptation of the book, understanding the basic plot in the most recent onscreen incarnation of "All the King's Men" is like trying to study a painting through a cloud of black smoke.

The filmmakers had promising material to work with: Warren's "All the King's Men" has half a century of success as a film -- the original version starring Broderick Crawford won the Academy Award for best picture in 1949. The novel explores timely issues such as Congressional corruption. While both the film and the novel are set in Louisiana, the main character, Willie Stark (Sean Penn), parallels to Huey Long, the radical and flamboyant governor and senator of Louisiana who ran against Franklin D. Roosevelt in the Democratic Primary Election for president before his 1935 assassination.

The 2006 version "All the King's Men," however, is a tedious and incomprehensible mess. A film's success can be measured by how well it entertains uninterested viewers: unfortunately Steven Zaillian's "All the King's Men" fails to entertain even interested viewers and disappoints everyone else.

Oddly, the cast was the film's biggest defect, though not because of its credentials. Sean Penn, Jude Law, Anthony Hopkins, Kate Winslet, Mark Ruffalo, Patricia Clarkson and James Gandolfini were all on this sinking boat (Clarkson is the only Southern actress in the cast). Evidently the filmmakers were attempting to pull another successful "Cold Mountain" stunt by packing a group of talented and big-name non-Southern actors into a film about the South. Their accents were either non-existent (Hopkins) or artificial (everyone else). The accented actors struggle so much to conquer the perfect southern drawl that they rarely speak above whispers. The audio of "All the King's Men" felt tampered, with raised levels whenever Willie Stark made a speech and painfully low volumes for everything else. The quietness is agonizing for viewers trying to strain themselves and hear the dialogue, making following the plot an enormous effort.

A film is bad enough when the dialogue is inaudible, but in this case the writing and editing pulled it down as well. The filmmakers had two solid storylines to work with (one about a well-intentioned politician named Willie Stark, the other about a journalist turned henchman (Jude Law) who is morally torn), story lines that succeeded in the 1949 version. However the revamped plots of 2006 fail to live up to their predecessors partially because the filmmakers chose pretension and tiresome landscapes over plot progression and dialogue.

Fortunately, the film has many good aspects such as Sean Penn's grandiose orations, which were perfectly in tune with both the spirits of Willie Stark and Huey Long. The finale was pieced together well, but the rest of the film was so weak that the scene only left viewers wishing they had managed to understand the plot well enough to appreciate the end.

The age-old saying, "the book is better than the film" – which rarely has been proven wrong – shines true in the case of "All the King's Men." If you are interested in Willie Stark, Huey Long or Robert Penn Warren, stick with the book and save your money for a better film.

"All the King's Men" (120 minutes) is rated PG-13 for an intense sequence of violence, sexual content and partial nudity

Gus Woods. William "Gus" Woods is a junior who enjoys, far more than anything else, tiddlywinks tournaments and "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" re-runs. He is a great fan of any and all music and enjoys playing the piano in his spare time. He belongs, literally belongs, … More »

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