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All the King's Men(2006)
Gripping adaptation of Robert Penn Warren's novel stars Sean Penn as Willie Stark, a small- time Louisiana politico tapped to run for governor as part of a plot to keep the big-money incumbent in office. Realizing he's being used as a pawn, the once idealistic Stark becomes a ruthless, power-hungry political operator obsessed with winning the gubernatorial race.
For more about All the King's Men and the All the King's Men Blu-ray release, see All the King's Men Blu-ray Review published by Martin Liebman on October 20, 2009 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.0 out of 5.
Starring: Sean Penn, Jude Law, Kate Winslet, James Gandolfini, Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Hopkins
Director: Steven Zaillian
» See full cast & crew
All the King's Men Blu-ray Review
Couldn't put this film together again.
Reviewed by Martin Liebman, October 20, 2009
Time brings all things to light.
It seemed a shoe-in to become one of those critically-adored, Oscar-contending Political dramas that, regardless of box office returns, was guaranteed to be a success thanks to plenty of "four stars!" and "two thumbs up, way up!" and "extraordinary!" and "don't miss this film!" sort of blurbs that would populate television and radio ads, and, eventually, home video release artwork. It boasted a stellar cast full of previous Oscar winners, nominees, and fan favorites. On top of it all, it was based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel that any self-resepcting high school or college student or self-proclaimed admirer of fine literature would at least be familiar with. Not so fast. 2006's All the King's Men, adapted from the Robert Penn Warren novel, written for the screen and directed by Steven Zaillian (Searching for Bobby Fischer), and following in the footsteps of the 1949 filmed adaptation that took home Oscars for Best Picture, Best Actor in a Leading Role, and Best Actress in a Supporting role, sputtered at the box office and, more importantly, proved a failure with the critics and garnered not a single Oscar nomination. All the ingredients were in place; what went wrong?
County Treasurer and Mason City, Louisiana resident Willie Stark (Sean Penn, Casualties of War) has become an outspoken critic of local politicians that lined their pockets with cash slated to go towards the proper construction of a new schoolhouse. When three students die as a result of faulty construction, Stark -- an humble man that seeks to serve the people and not his own self-interests -- is convinced to run for Governor of the state by a man named "Tiny" Duffy (James Gandolfini, "The Sopranos"). Stark appeals to the state's "hick" population through a populist message, and though he discovers his candidacy was set in motion by one of his two opponents as a means of splitting the vote, he wins thanks to his fiery speeches and proclamation that he's incorruptible. Nevertheless, political power slowly but surely gets the best of him; not only does he pick up bad habits, but when a prominent former judge named Irwin (Anthony Hopkins, The Mask of Zorro) leads a charge to have him impeached, Stark turns to former reporter Jack Burden (Jude Law, Gattaca) to dig up dirt on Irwin in an attempt to stave off the abrupt end of his term in office.
Boasting a great story, a cast that's just as strong, and a director that might not have many films under his belt but definitely demonstrates a strong technical proficiency, it's hard to pinpoint exactly what went wrong with All the King's Men. Superficially, all the pieces seem in place for an Oscar run, but the effort was ultimately for not. Make no mistake; All the King's Men isn't a bad movie at all. It suffers from being saddled with tremendous expectations that, for several reasons, it just can't overcome. It's sort of like a high-priced, $200,000,000 baseball team. It's packed with All-Stars and fans and experts alike expect great things. The team wins 90 games but falls a game or two short of making the playoffs. Under normal circumstances, that season would be considered successful in most circles. The same holds true for All the King's Men. It doesn't accomplish what it seems primed for, but that doesn't make it an abysmal failure of moviemaking, either. The film seems to simply buckle under its own lofty expectations; it seems too overplayed and tries far too hard to be better than it needs to be. A movie's only as good as its story, and All the King's Men features a superb one; the cast and crew simply try to spit and polish an already shining example of first-rate storytelling, and the result is a sheen that's quickly worn away, yielding a nice but nevertheless dulled picture instead of leaving well enough alone and allowing the story to weave the film into Oscar contention.
The film's other primary problems stem from its ensemble cast. There's not a bad actor to be found amongst the bunch, but they never quite gel, grasp the spirit of the material, or fall into character as naturally and effortlessly as moviegoers might expect of Sean Penn, James Gandolfini, Jude Law, Patricia Clarkson, Mark Ruffalo, and even Anthony Hopkins. Though Penn delivers a fine performance, he seems to, like the film on the whole, overplay his hand. He comes across as almost too fiery, his rallies playing more like a television preacher than an impassioned politician that's just looking out for the best interest of Louisiana's "hick" population, of which he considers himself a member. Still, Penn does well to embody the character's arc wonderfully. As power slowly begins to eat away at his moral compass, the character first turns to drink after abstaining while still a "lowly" County Treasurer and subsequently looks out for his own political ambitions rather than the well-being of his constituents, the later serving as the central storyline of the film. Unfortunately, the remainder of the cast never seems to bring much verve to their roles; they seem more focused on perfecting their accents than discovering the emotional centers of the characters they play. The result is not only a collection of dull characters but a film that's hard to understand without the aid of subtitles as many mumble their way through local colloquialisms wrapped in heavy accents. One saving grace is Steven Zaillian's superb direction. All the King's Men is a beautifully-crafted film, one that is almost mesmerizing to look at. Zaillian makes excellent use of shadow, angles, and environments that often reflect not only on the character's physical perspectives but reflect the story's themes nicely.
All the King's Men Blu-ray, Video Quality
All the King's Men arrives on Blu-ray with a fairly good 1080p, MPEG-2 encoded, 1.85:1-framed transfer. Though an earlier release in the life of the Blu-ray format, All the King's Men boasts a rather strong transfer that holds up nicely even today. It does lack that last bit of clarity and definition that defines the upper-stratosphere sort of transfers, but all things considered (and the film's intended look in particular), this one's a winner. The color palette appears deliberately toned down throughout. There's often a slightly dull and gray appearance to the film; there are splashes of bright colors, particularly greens, but the tone does well to reflect the film's themes. As a result, flesh tones take on a rather ghastly appearance. Fine detail is suitably good but not overwhelming; chipped paint on a Louisiana home's exterior or the nicely appointed upholstery in a high dollar hotel are nicely rendered. The transfer also exhibits a nice sense of depth, though some backgrounds (and a few foregrounds) occasionally go a bit soft. Black levels are solid throughout, and the transfer is capped off by the retention of a very slight layer of natural film grain. Though this isn't The International, it's a solid release from Sony.
All the King's Men Blu-ray, Audio Quality
All the King's Men delivers a surpassingly active and sonically satisfying PCM 5.1 uncompressed soundtrack. The primary drawback is that dialogue is sometimes delivered with a bit too much bass; combined with the thick accents and occasionally overly loud background sound effects, the spoken word is sometimes muddled and difficult to make out. Otherwise, All the King's Men sounds exceptional, particularly considering the film's standing as a dramatic political picture. Though the aforementioned atmospherics sometimes play with a bit too much volume in relation to other aspects of the track, they generally sound wonderful and add plenty of lifelike vibrancy to the soundtrack. Chirping insects surround the listener in plenty of outdoor scenes; thunder booms around the soundstage in several scenes; and an interior train scene in chapter three features the sound of the car rattling down the track in the background to wonderful effect, and it does an excellent job of placing the viewer in the train car with Willie, Jack, and Sadie. Stronger effects work nicely, too. An exterior shot shows a train rumbling from left to right in one scene, and later, from front to back. Several gunshots scattered about the film also feature an appropriately heavy thud with each shot. Music is expertly reproduced with a natural tone and clarity across the range. With fine clarity and excellent use of the entire soundstage, All the King's Men represents one of the finer-sounding Dramas on Blu-ray.
All the King's Men Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Nothing is included.
All the King's Men Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
A wonderful story that falls short thanks to somewhat flawed execution, mediocre acting, and too much self-induced pressure to be better than it needed to be, All the King's Men is a classic example of a film that tries too hard and winds up a lesser film for it. Not a disaster but certainly not the epic and Oscar-worthy picture it should have been and wanted to be, All the King's Men is just a good movie with its heart in the right place but with everything else off-kilter. Sony's Blu-ray release is technically sound. The image quality represents one of the better MPEG-2 encodes out there, and the PCM track delivers a surprisingly robust surround sound experience considering the film's Drama-oriented tone. Unfortunately, no supplements are included. Worth a rental.
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