The King (15)
Time Out says
Mon May 15 2006There’s a good team behind this artful, creepy and well-acted study of good and evil in the American South, which unfortunately wears its influences a little too earnestly on its sleeve (these range from Malick and Lynch to countless other subversions of suburban calm and sketches of American Gothic). British director James Marsh has a strong background in documentaries and is best known for ‘Wisconsin Death Trip’; American writer-producer Milo Addica wrote ‘Monster’s Ball’; and Mexican actor Gael García Bernal capitalises on a host of Spanish-language arthouse hits to assume his first role in a US movie.
Elvis (Bernal) quits the US Navy and heads to a quiet Texan town, where he tracks down an unsuspecting David Sandow (William Hurt), a charismatic and popular preacher in the conservative local community, and tells him that he’s his son from an affair with a Mexican woman. ‘It was before I became a Christian,’ Sandow whispers firmly to Elvis while his wife and two teenage children linger in the family SUV. ‘This is my family and that is my home.’
It’s unclear whether it’s the long-term or short-term rejection that drives Elvis, but despite a cool gaze and a likeable demeanour he wages a cruel campaign against Sandow’s family. He starts a steamy relationship with his virginal, white-socked daughter Malerie (Pell James, allowing for the most intriguing relationship in the film) and soon viciously murders Paul, his son (Paul Dano). Both violations remain secret when Sandow experiences a religious guilt-trip and welcomes Elvis into the family and even introduces him to his congregation. Not that the ideals of Christian forgiveness have much truck with Elvis. It’s hard to determine whether the boy is plain evil or just plain stupid…
‘The King’ is heavy on mood and location. Its makers take great pains to sketch the characters’ surroundings in such a way that they reflect ominously on their story: the Sandows’ sterile world of modern churches, nice lawns, floral dresses and shallow rivers exists side-by-side with Elvis’ more nocturnal, more dangerous environment of shabby hotel rooms, beat-up old cars and dark highways at night. You either buy these visions of Americana or you don’t; personally, I feel that I’ve experienced enough such takes of America in both film and photography to last a lifetime. The sickly sweet, lullaby-style score only confirms this.
Reservations aside, ‘The King’ is a largely compelling debut that offers an unusual and neither sneering nor hackneyed spin on modern religion. Incest and murder battle with faith and forgiveness. But as its somewhat histrionic plot and laboured aesthetic finally unfolds into a hysterical climax, ‘The King’ suffers from an overbearing sense of its own self-importance.
Author: Dave Calhoun
Fri May 19, 2006