All the King’s Men (2006)

Lucy in the Sky

The critics hated it. The public stayed home.

But I liked this. A lot. It is cinematic. Powerful cinema.

And I am telling you I liked this with a bit of surprise on my part. That’s because it has two actors who often play this introspective game, where they let you know they are playing a role. Penn does this throughout because his character is playing a part. There’s even a scene where Jude Law’s character asks if Penn’s winked at him at the first meeting, and Penn’s character demurs. So that’s all fulfilling, but we also have the remarkable Kate Winslet who is more powerful than Penn in this ability. And she plays the southern woman, which means she is a decoration only — and the important part: without knowing it. A waste two ways, which may have been the point.

The story — which hardly matters — is about the nature of the environment. High school teachers will say something like power corrupts. Sophomore college teachers will talk about “deep” philosophical Greek questions, both of which are true I suppose. But I like to think about the environment seeping into and controlling lives. Its what Penn Warren said of it. And it is smack in the tradition of southern literature, indeed Southern Life.

There are spores of self-decoration in the context of defeatism that penetrate every element of southern life, even today. Even a MacDonald’s or Starbucks in the south has it. Look and see.

Now I don’t know this man as a filmmaker, but I do know his writing. He’s intelligent. He’s intelligent enough to know the limits for instance of Spielberg as a filmmaker and to write around those glaring deficiencies. He’s intelligent enough to pick extraordinarily good talent.

And he’s intelligent enough to place the cosmic forces behind this in the place. Its almost as if Terence Malick were his location scout. The places are so characteristically affecting, so full of storytelling tendrils, so rich with the honey of sex that you cannot avoid what the filmmaker intends. The camera’s embrace of place sets us in a film where context is the driver, not men.

The great irony in the story is that the central figure pretends to be in control. He “makes up” the laws of the world with the intent of sprinkling enough good out of the shaker. But though he struts and puffs, he’s a puppet, and no more an agent in the world than the ice skating stripper we see.

Much has been made of the arm flailing. Also of the fakey Louisiana accent. That’s “Lucy-ne'” But the whole point is that the character is what the critics thought Penn was: overblown. And the whole point of a deep southern accent? Its made up as performance, even by the natives.

Posted in 2007

Ted’s Evaluation — 3 of 3: Worth watching.


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