Number two in a series of three attempts to adapt Robert Penn Warren’s book to the movie format.
ALL THE KINGS MEN - 2006 - movie - directed by Steven Zaillian, who also wrote the screenplay; based on a Pulitzer Prize winning novel of the same name by Robert Penn Warren. In 1949 a movie adaption of his book, directed by Robert Rossen was nominated for seven, and won three, Academy Awards. Zaillian claimed to never have seen the 1949 Academy Award winning version directed by Rossen.
The players in this version are: Willy Stark (Sean Penn), Jack Burden (Jude Law), Anne Stanton (Kate Winslet), Judge Irwin (Anthony Hopkins), Tiny Duffy (James Gandolfini), Sadie Burke (Patricia Clarkson), Adam Stanton (Mark Ruffalo), Sugar Boy (Jackie Haley), Lucy Stark (Talla Balsam).
This movie received a lot of negative criticism for Zaillian’s script. However, if you’ve never read about all these faults…. you’ll never miss them. What picks you up and carries this movie forward are the performances by Sean Penn, Jude Law, Patricia Clarkson, James Gandolfini, and the rest of the cast.
What Zaillian counted on was the respectability and credibility that his choice of high level acting talent would bring to his movie... and it worked. Another plus for Zaillian was that his budget allowed him to shoot in Louisiana.
Although I thoroughly enjoyed being carried head-long with Zaillian’s version of this story, I do question some of the production and directorial decisions. The root cause of the poverty that Stark pinned his campaign on, was the result of the 1930s depression. Moving the setting to the 1950s, a period of great prosperity, undercuts the basis of Willie Stark’s plea to the voters; actually they never had it better.
There are a couple other nits…. Zaillian’s decision to force the players to use southern accents only marginally worked. They not only sounded fake but they faded in and out. Also, I didn’t think the washed out color patina added anything unless this was an attempt to signify a different era.
The plot and story line imply that Willy Stark won the governorship with the populist’s vote.
His heartfelt, expressed goals were to build schools, bridges, and highways, and hospitals that offered free care for all. Willy soon discovered that the entrenched establishment, which he defeated, was blocking him from re-channeling state money to help the poor. This is only a 2 hour movie so Willie’s epiphany has to happen pretty fast. He quickly learns that he has to use the same tools as the establishment if he’s going to reach his goals. "Good comes from bad."
His enemies, led by Standard Oil and the corrupt politicians who were stealing the state blind before he took office, want to impeach him and are now painting him as a ruthless, power-hungry demigod who is stealing money only to enrich himself.
However, we see no evidence of criminal activity or self-aggrandizement; fast cars, yachts, etc. He admits that he’s used underhanded practices to accomplish his goals, but in his mind the end justified the means. How have his tactics benefited anyone but the poor deserving voters?
What Willie is missing is the ability to transition from being a vote winning, take-no-prisoners campaigner to that of a benevolent ruler. It is a fate bestowed on many, who after a long struggle, find themselves at the top of the ladder with their limitations laid bare for all to see…. the Peter Principle, on the political stage. The man knows how to fight, but has never learned how to rule. A common problem, even today.
James Gandolfini, regardless of his success in The Sopranos, has been an underrated actor. His persona and physical presence brings a level of believability to all the characters he portrays. He does a superb job as Tiny Duffy in Zaillian’s movie.
Jude Law was perfectly cast as Jack Burden, the wandering journalist and iconoclastic scion of an aristocratic family.
Sean Penn seemed to revel in his grand speechifying monologues; moments that an actor dreams of. Zaillian chose not to include the intimate family confrontations, such as those that led to his son Tom’s paralysis due to an accident on the football field during a game that Willie goaded him into playing. Nor did Zaillian include Tom’s drunk driving accident which led to his girlfriend’s death.
Anthony Hopkins as Judge Irwin was not a major role, but he none-the-less managed to anchor the movie with his incredible presence and his ability to assume mantle of his character’s incorruptible persona. The respect that the Judge commanded was the bright shiny object that Willie longed to hold… it was what he desperately needed to survive the attempts to impeach him.
After all that… if you’ve plunked down your $12 for a ticket, bought your $6 barrel of popcorn and 16 once drink, you will walk out with a smile, a full bladder and feeling that it was a thrilling 2 hours of fun.
I strongly urge you to utilize your public library’s Inter-Library Loan Program to get your hands on the 1949 movie with Broderick Crawford. Watching them, literally back-to-back, will give you a special insight into what guides the decision making process and how movies like this are made. I guarantee it will be a rewarding experience.
Just a last note…. in Mr. Warren’s book, Jack Burden and Ann Stanton get married. The issue of them sharing the same father (Judge Irwin) is never addressed.
Randy Newman - "Kingfish"
Randy Newman - "Every Man A King".