British documentary filmmaker James Marsh has collaborated for his first narrative feature, "The King", with hot screenwriter Milo Addica
("Monster's Ball", "Birth") to create a horror story that is as pretty as a candy box but contains only poison.
The film is an accomplished piece of mischief making that directly confronts religious conviction, in this case Christian, with its worst nightmare: can you really forgive evil?
Beautifully shot and well acted, the film might well cause controversy among fundamentalist believers as a provocative allegory challenging the power of faith. The film's boxoffice future will test its marketing team. The success of this film, which deals entirely with the nature of belief, will depend, however, upon audiences being willing to disbelieve.
The story has biblical overtones as a young man named Elvis Sandow (Gael Garcia Bernal) takes an honorable discharge from the U.S. Navy after three years and tells shipmates he is going home.
Elvis heads directly to Corpus Christi, Texas, where he seeks out Pastor David Sandow (William Hurt) and claims to be his son, the result of an encounter with a now dead Mexican woman. The pastor, who runs a successful Christian center involving a church and a school, immediately spurns the young man, explaining that he has a new family now, and the episode with his mother occurred before he had found Jesus.
Elvis, however, encounters the Pastor's 16-year-old daughter Malerie (Pell James
), who doesn't know of his relationship to her father, and they fall in love, which presents any number of problems. Late one night, Malerie's Bible-student brother Paul (Matthew Buckley) observes Elvis leaving their house and follows him. Paul confronts Elvis, saying he will tell the pastor who will ensure the lovers will never meet again.
In a completely unexpected outburst of anger, Elvis stabs the boy and kills him. In an apparent state of shock, the sailor cleans up everything and dumps the body in a remote lake, returning the boy's car to his home.
The pastor and his family react to their son's disappearance as Christians might, praying and fasting. As it becomes apparent that Paul is unlikely to return, however, their faith is shaken to its core. As the secret love affair between Elvis and Malerie continues, the pastor has a change of heart and welcomes the young man into his home as a lost son.
Marsh and Addica infuse the remainder of the story with growing dread as the sweet-faced prodigal son and the stern and powerful minister appear on a collision course.
Bernal plays the young Elvis with great conviction, his handsome features masking a steely determination, and Hurt is masterful as a wastrel turned minister possessed of a sturdy but tempestuous belief.
The film benefits hugely from inspired work by cinematographer Eigil Bryld
, production designer Sharon Lomofsky
and composer Max Avery Lichtenstein.
Credits: Director: James Marsh; Screenwriters: Milo Addica
, James Marsh; Producers: Milo Addica
, James Wilson; Executive producers: Edward R. Pressman, John Schmidt, Sofia Sondervan; Cinematographer: Eigil Brylde; Production designer: Sharon Lomofsky; Editor: Jinx Godfrey; Composer: Max Avery Lichtenstein
. Cast: Elvis Sandow: Gael Garcia Bernal; Pastor David Sandow: William Hurt; Malerie Sandow: Pell James; Twyla Sandow: Laura Harring; Paul Sandow: Paul Dano.
No MPAA rating, running time 105 minutes