Directed by: Steven Zaillian
Premise: The story of Willie Stark (Sean Penn), an independent politician who rises to fame on a populist ticket and challenges government corruption in 1950s Louisiana.
What Works: All the King’s Men features some extraordinary performances by Sean Penn as Stark and Jude Law as an idealistic journalist who becomes Stark’s press representative. These two play off of each other and make up the most interesting interpersonal relationship in the story. The first half of the film is very enjoyable and the story of how Stark goes from a well intentioned citizen to a crafty politician is done extremely well done in its pacing, plotting, and acting.
What Doesn’t: The film gets rickety in the second half. It is unclear where the story is going. The writing attempts to straddle two fences as Stark’s character is corrupted by power but then the story also tries to keep him as a people’s champion. All the King’s Men fails to resolve the tension between these two directions. As the story goes on, this tension gets larger, building toward a climax that is detached from the rest of the plot.
Bottom Line: Overall, All the King’s Men is well executed, but the story goes in too many different directions. In the end it’s Penn and Law’s performances that really stand out.
Episode: #111 (October 8, 2006)