King, The (2006)

Reviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 06/16/06 00:13:42

"That is one nutty parish!"
4 stars (Worth A Look)

“The King” tells a story that is so wildly and absurdly melodramatic in every way, shape and form that many viewers will be unable to decide whether it is a flat-out masterpiece or the most lurid piece of junk that they have ever seen. As for myself, I am of two minds about it. Immediately after watching it, I thought it was one of the silliest things I had ever seen in my life but I have to admit that in the weeks since, it has grown in stature in my mind as a bold and fearless work in a time when timidity is all the rage.

Gael Garcia Bernal stars as Elvis, a young Hispanic who, upon leaving the military, sets off for Texas to meet the father that he has never known. He believes that man to be William Hurt, a man who long ago renounced his wild ways and, as a result, has gained wealth and power (as the head of a large and successful church), a loving family (wife Laura Harring, daughter Pell James and son Paul Dano) and one killer mustache. When Dad rebuffs him, Elvis sets about a slow and deliberate plan of revenge to destroy his life–one that starts with the seduction of the daughter (who may be his . . .ewwwww) and quickly grows more and more sordid as the story unspools.

This is decidedly unsavory material and the actors and director/co-writer James Marsh approach it in the only way possible–by tackling it head-on with no hesitation and no apologies. The resulting film is kind of a mess but a fairly watchable one under the circumstances. What saves it from devolving into soap-opera silliness is its sheer unpredictability–you never know what is coming next–and the strength of its two central performances. Bernal is such a mesmerizing screen presence that even after he crosses the line from mildly creepy to outright malevolence, he still makes Elvis a compelling character to follow. Hurt pulls off a similar trick with his supporting role by taking an unsympathetic character and investing it with a certain dignity. (Between his work here and his brief turns in “A History of Violence” and “Syriana,” it is clear that something has recharged Hurt’s acting batteries.) The other performances are pretty impressive as well–Pell James is quite convincing as the teenage daughter and after seeing the film, I advise you to check out her IMDB profile to understand just what an achievement that is.

At times, “The King” bites off more than it can chew (especially a weird subplot involving Hurt’s other son trying to get “intelligent design” included in the school curriculum) and the finale does finally teeter over the edge into outright insanity in a manner not seen since “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.” That said, this is a movie that is alive in a way that few are these days–you may love it or hate it but I guarantee that you won’t walk out of it bored.

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