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All the King's Men

Basically, this remake of All the King's Men is a nice way to take a two-hour nap, despite Sean Penn"s fervent attempts to wake you up.


There should be a rule stating if a movie has already won the Academy Award for Best Picture, it should never, EVER be remade at a later time, no matter who is involved. Why mess with a good thing? The 1949 All the King's Men, based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Robert Penn Warren, starred Broderick Crawford as Willie Stark, a 1950s Louisiana politician who uses fiery rhetoric to get the poor folk to elect him as governor but who becomes corrupt in the process and is eventually assassinated. The story is loosely based on the real-life legendary 1930s Louisiana governor Huey P. Long, and the original film adaptation was equally brazen and subtle, wonderfully executed and won three Oscars, including the top prize. But apparently, the original wasn"t as authentic as this current incarnation. This time, Sean Penn stars as our prime filibuster, who tries to keep things lively but gets bogged down by the muddled subplots, especially the one involving Stark"s PR guy, Jack Burden (Jude Law), and his relationships with his very Southern godfather (Anthony Hopkins) and childhood friends (Kate Winslet and Mark Ruffalo). Yawn.


With a cast like this, it"s no wonder King's Men got remade. Penn clearly stands out, of course. How could he not? His Willie Stark is the only thing sparking anything close to life in the film. But, with the part such as it is, Penn also tends to unnecessarily chew up scenery, while everyone stands around him in a wilting repose. Law—once again narrating the proceedings (must he do this in ALL his films?)—tries to embody a character who really doesn"t seem to give a rat"s ass about anything, except being Stark"s beck and call boy, even after all the horrible things Stark makes him do to the people he supposedly loves. Winslet, as Jack"s unrequited childhood love, Ruffalo, as her put-upon brother and Hopkins, as a former judge who stands in Stark"s way to success, are all just completely wasted. As is Patricia Clarkson, as Stark"s campaign manager and mistress Sadie Burke, who was so brilliantly played by the Oscar-winning Mercedes McCambridge in the 1949 original. Whatever happened in translation is surely not Clarkson fault. Come on, guys, you"ve got a powerhouse crew here. Why fritter them away?


Apparently, redoing All the King's Men has been a dream project of political pundit James Carville, one of the film"s producers, for some time. He has dabbled here and there in the entertainment industry, especially in the riveting documentary The War Room, so, periodically, through the years, Carville would mention to filmmakers in passing how he had a passion for Robert Penn Warren"s novel and how deeply he wanted to see it filmed authentically. Lo and behold, someone finally listened and a new King's Men was underway, helmed by writer/director Steven Zaillian (Searching for Bobby Fischer) with an all-star cast. Filming on location in New Orleans and the outlying areas of Louisiana, just before Hurricane Katrina hit, Zaillian provides the faithfulness Carville was looking for. But did anyone at any time ask the question, "Why are we doing this movie again when it was already done so well?" I repeat, it was a Best Picture winner, for chrissakes. And now remaking it into a giant snore-fest just ruins the mystique. Sometimes, they just don"t get it.

Bottom Line rated this film 1 1/2 stars.