Remake of Oscar-Winner Fails to Measure-Up
to the Original
It takes a lot of nerve to remake a movie which not only won the Academy
Award for Best Picture, but also landed Oscars in the Best Actor (Broderick Crawford)
and Best Supporting Actress (Mercedes McCambridge) categories. Yet that’s
exactly what we have with All the King's Men (1949), a screen classic which Columbia
decided it was time to revive to try to improve upon the old studio recipe.
Both versions are based on Robert Penn Warren’s Pulitzer Prize-winning
of the same name revolving around the rise and fall of Willie Stark, a populist
politician hailing from humble roots who ultimately falls prey to the same sort
of crookedness and cronyism he had campaigned against. Stark’s political
machine and career trajectory closely mirrors that of Louisiana Governor/U.S.
Senator Huey Long, a charismatic figure from the Thirties who captured the people’s
imagination with fiery speeches relating his grand ideas about redistributing
wealth from the rich to the poor. Where the original film was very convincing
in portraying the transformation of a naive idealist into a ruthless crook, the
new edition is merely a fatuous, self-important period piece. A too-complex-to-follow
saga of Shakespearean proportions exploring such paired themes as power and
corruption, love and betrayal, blackmail and coercion, and sin and redemption,
this pretentious, meandering rehash devotes more attention to recreating the
ambiance of a bygone era than to addressing, in a meaningful manner, the myriad
moral questions it raises.
The film was directed by Steven Zaillian who has reinterpreted the source material
as a highly-stylized neo-noir. Regrettably, Zaillian somehow failed to coax even
one dynamic performance or decent Southern accent out of a stellar cast comprised
of Sean Penn, Anthony Hopkins, Kate Winslet, Jude Law, Patricia Clarkson, James
Gandolfini and Mark Ruffalo. The result is an emotionally-disengaging, if visually-captivating,
experience of no salutary effect.
This story unfolds in the Fifties where we first find Stark (Penn), a teetotaler
and family man, out on the campaign trail for Governor of Louisiana. A novice,
he’s blissfully unaware that he’s being managed by a shady operator
(Gandolfini) with intentions to split the vote, not to win the election. Stark
wises up fast, however, and replacing the backstabber with a well-connected reporter
(Law), tears up his stump speech and starts speaking to crowds straight from
The honest approach works and he wins in a landslide, and almost immediately
begins to adopt all the graft-taking, influence-peddling, boozing and womanizing
ways of the outgoing administration, the belabored point being the age-old maxim
that absolute power corrupts absolutely. Meanwhile, the gov becomes embroiled
in several sordid subplots, one involving a crooked judge (Hopkins), a femme
fatale (Winslet) and her strait-laced brother (Ruffalo). .
But with every character a shallow caricature of a familiar, simplistically-drawn
archetype, don’t expect much of a payoff should you choose to invest two
hours in this bloated borefest.
Fair (1 star)