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King of the Hill
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by Elaine Perrone

"King of the coming-of-age dramas."
5 stars

Living with his parents and smaller brother in a transient hotel in Depression-era St. Louis, twelve-year-old Aaron Kurlander’s most valuable possession is his vivid imagination. When his family is split up and Aaron is left to fend for himself with the bare minimum of resources, it will take every bit of wit and stamina the young boy can muster, just to keep body and soul together.

Anchored by the lovely performance of Jesse Bradford as Aaron, and featuring an excellent cast of supporting players, Steven Soderbergh’s adaptation of A.E. Hotchner’s memoirs is a wonderfully rich testament to the resilience and generosity – and, too often, the meanness – of the human spirit.

Beautifully rendered in sepia tones, with meticulous attention to the details of the period, watching King of the Hill is as absorbing and pleasurable as time spent leafing through a beloved album of photos of the people one holds dear – and in some cases, fears.

There is Aaron’s teacher, Miss Mathey (Karen Allen). An avid student, Aaron charms Miss Mathey with a clever yarn about his being a confidante and advisor to Charles Lindbergh. Although she knows full well the circumstances of Aaron’s living conditions – his classmates refer to him as the school’s “charity case” – she kindly extends him the measure of dignity he deserves by participating in his lie when he gives her a false home address for the school’s records.

Aaron’s best friend and mentor is Lester Silverstone (Adrien Brody), a street-wise young man who takes the youngster under his wing and teaches him the ropes of staying one step ahead of the beat-cop who delights in tormenting the children of the neighborhood.

Aaron’s neighbor, Mr. Mungo (Spalding Gray, in a sadly prescient role), is a depressive writer who shares a strange, mutually contemptuous relationship with the hotel’s prostitute, Lydia (Elizabeth McGovern).

Then there is Ben (Joe Chrest), the hotel’s porter, a nasty piece of work who lies in wait for residents whose rents are in default to leave the premises, at which time he seizes their belongings and puts padlocks on the doors to their rooms.

When Aaron tries a small-business scheme of breeding birds that backfires, the boy generously uses his meager earnings to buy a kitten for the comfort of his friend Ella (Amber Benson), a child stricken with epilepsy.

His mother (Lisa Eichhorn), too, is ill, confined to a sanitarium with tuberculosis. Her wealth, and strength, is in her love of her two boys, and when Aaron and his mother are together, their joy in each other is plainly reflected in their eyes.

Aaron’s small brother Sullivan (Cameron Boyd) has been sent to live with relatives in Keokuk, Iowa, when their father Eric (Jeroen Krabbé) determines that he can’t support both boys. When Eric takes a job selling watches on the road, leaving Aaron alone in the hotel with 25 cents in spending money and the admonition to “be a Mensch,” Aaron takes ingenious steps to bring his beloved brother back home where he belongs.

Aaron finally gets an opportunity for payback – and again performs an act of generosity – when he hits upon a clever means of foiling Ben and, in the process, returning a beloved possession to a former neighbor who was put out of the hotel and is relegated to living in a Hooverville.

Beautifully written, directed, and performed, King of the Hill is a small miracle, an underseen treasure to be savored again and again. Honest and true in its portrayal of a boy who conquers adversity through his own courage, humor, and determination, it is an enriching moviegoing experience, an ultimately uplifting nourishment for one’s soul.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=6745&reviewer=376
originally posted: 12/12/04 19:51:00
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User Comments

12/27/09 joe a small gem -a film to be savored 5 stars
9/26/07 Steve Newman This is a great film, the review is spot on. Please see it 5 stars!!! 5 stars
8/03/06 Agent Sands One of Soderbergh's early works. Not his strongest, but it's got its own flares. 4 stars
12/18/05 tammy very good film 5 stars
5/27/05 tony I dont think this diserves a rating.Very boring and useless.I felt like i was going to die 1 stars
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  20-Aug-1993 (PG-13)



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