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This film has gained a bit of stick from advance audiences, and the writers faced some hostile questioning following the screening I attended at the London Film Festival. I am frankly bemused as to why. I feel that, at worst, this is a solid and compelling indie flick and, at best, it has some important and lasting points to make about American identity, the nature of sin and the power of faith. My personal opinion is that many of those who see it are offended by either the film's refusal to judge the evil of it's main protagonist (played ever-perfectly by Gael Garcia Bernal), the portrayal of Latino as killer, the perceived failure to criticise the tee-total, creationist excesses of the Bible Belt, or a combination of the above. After all, southern-style Christianity is about as popular as Nazism right now among the arty set. I would prefer to view the film as what it is - an open-ended tragedy refusing to answer its own questions for the audience. I have thought of it frequently in the days since.
This is a nasty piece of work. It's also an impressive piece of work, a
sour and cynical dark comedy of a twisted kind of Americana by the
young British director James Marsh, making his feature film debut.
Elvis, (Gael Garcia Bernal), gets out of the navy and heads off in
search of his daddy, the man who sired him and then abandoned him.
Daddy, once a sinner, has now reformed and is a preacher with his own
church. Bit by bit Elvis worms his way into the family circle, taking
no prisoners on the way.
There are moments of shocking, unexpected violence and you are always left with a nasty taste in the mouth but at the same time, you are never quite sure which way the film is going to turn. In some respects it's a bit like Pasolini's "Theorem" but when I spoke to the director at the Dublin Film Festival he said he had never seen "Theorem", (but surely he must have known what it was about?), but did admit to being influenced in part by Dennis Potter's "Brimstone and Treacle".
It's a deeply unpleasant little picture but it is very well directed, (it feels unpolished, unfinished, rough around the edges which is just as it should be), and both Gael Garcia Bernal and William Hurt as his preacher father are superb. Bernal is like some beautiful, rotten fallen angel. Is he seeking redemption or total damnation? Hurt, too long in the doldrums, is on a run at the moment. With this, and Cronenberg's "A History of Violence" under his belt, he is very much back on form. See it certainly, but don't expect to be entertained.
Just saw this film as part of the Seattle International Film Festival and I found it very well made. I go to plenty of festival films and most are truly dreck. This was a nice surprise. While the story goes a couple of steps too far in terms of reality, viewed as old fashioned Greek drama, it was quite exhilarating. The story hits many high points and keeps you on the edge of your seat wondering when characters will catch up with the audience. The acting among the principal players was highly consistent with the characters they set up and were actually believable when circumstances became overly dramatic -- even the daughter's actions made some sense when considering her "place" in the family and how much she was actually marginalized by her father. I would also say that Hurt deserves another nomination after the one he got last year for "The History of Violence" (another true gem). Plus, Bernal gives his most convincing performance yet -- very smart of him NOT to play this character in a very obvious way!
An unflinching and at times disturbing look at cause and effect, 'The
King' is an oddly satisfying experience to be had. It takes you on a
journey, from an unsuspecting state that descends so deeply into evil
there's no turning back, but no looking away. With an uncomfortable
final act and an equally unsettling performance by Gael Garcia Bernal,
'The King' is elevated to explosive heights. Stirring from beginning to
end, this independent film is thought-provoking and a welcome surprise.
After being discharged from the Navy, Elvis (Bernal) sets out on a journey to meet the father he's never known. His father, David Sandow (William Hurt), is a devout Christian and a pastor at a local church in Texas. David rejects his son, for he sees him as an illegitimate son born out of wedlock during a time in his life he's chosen to forget. Elvis is told to stay away from his estranged father and family, but unknowing that Elvis is her half-brother, 16-year-old Malerie gives her virginity to him and embarks on a passionate relationship. But in a small Texas community like the one in Corpus Christi, secrets have their way of rising to the top and bubbling over. And for David and his family, many unexpected and devastating twists of fate await them.
A low-budget effort from British director James Marsh, 'The King' comes through and finds its footing thanks to a compelling script. What's funny about a film like 'The King' is how it doesn't immediately pull you in, but slowly wraps you in its web of brooding darkness. And before you know it, you're smothered by it. It's the kind of film that will find its way into your head long after it's over with. It raises some provoking issues, including the dark side of religion and how one simple choice can have a destructing and devastating chain of results. But the most interesting question remains, can a person be born evil? Was Elvis, who under the Christian perspective was born in sin, a damned child from birth? The viewer watches the character worm his way into the Sandow family, they watch him descend into evil, all until it's too late. No turning back. Can anyone truly 'get right with the Lord'? Are Elvis' intentions pure damnation and destruction, or is he somehow seeking redemption?
'The King' is filled with many unexpected and unpleasant twists. Yet with each turn, Marsh's directorial skills become that much more impressive. It's gritty and edgy, and driven by exceptional performances. For years now Gael Garcia Bernal has been the star of many (excellent) underground Spanish-speaking films, including 'Y Tu Mama Tambien', 'Bad Education, and 'Amores Perros', but perhaps is best known for his powerful role as Che Guevera in 'The Motorcycle Diaries'. And as he begins to enter American cinema (he stars in this year's best film, 'The Science of Sleep', in which he masters English and French in addition to speaking Spanish), his choice of character-driven roles suggests that the independent route may suit him better than the lure of Hollywood and special effects. His boyish charm makes him the perfect choice for the role of Elvis, his charm bleeds through the screen. Even William Hurt's eyebrow raising character, based off of John Mark Byers from Paradise Lost, is powerful and compelling to watch.
'The King' remains one of 2006's best undiscovered gems. It may not be what you'd call entertaining, but you'll find it difficult to look away. Raw and natural, 'The King' is a film told by characters and not by a camera, and sometimes that makes all the difference. James Marsh proves himself to be a capable and very talented director, who takes command of this heavy film and turns it into an experience as engrossing as it is uneasy. It's dark and deeply disturbing, yet very intelligent, and 'The King' indeed takes the crown.
Gael Garcia Bernal has a knack of choosing roles that really challenge the viewer (Bad Education, And your mother too come to mind) and his role in The King is no exception. Superb performances from all the leads that left me with a chill down my spine as I left the cinema. It's impossible to comment too much on the plot of the movie without giving too much away but I was totally engrossed with this tale of Elvis seeking out his father who just happens to be a Pastor in the bible belt of Texas and what ensues. The camera work as it spans through the house of the Pastor in some of the final reels of the film serves to build up to a chilling finale to a story that goes places quite unexpected and deals with issues that are not usually addressed in today's cinema. Certainly not in such an effective way as is in evidence here. Bernal's quite detached way in which he plays this role leaves you with some unanswered questions about his initial motives but in my opinion does not detract from the performance or the film itself. Well worth the price of admission.
Thank you Director and Producer (specifically you guys because I saw
your Q&A after the movie in Austin)! Thank you for not saturating this
with the standard dark moody music to match every scene's tempo! The
music in this movie kept me tense and glued to the screen because it
gave nothing away about what was coming next. Perfect! Thank you for
keeping us wondering what drives Elvis and not making him behave like
so many before him that do similar things. Because we couldn't be sure
what he was capable of next, we felt a certain tension with every new
scene. Thank you for not having a hidden 'twist'! Seriously. Thank you
for the cinematography! I could describe why every shot was great, but
a 360 circuit from the house through the garden and back through the
house was my favorite! We were literally craning our necks with every
twist and turn.
I loved everything about this movie. If you are a film student, take every preconceived idea about interpretation out of your head and just feel how your eyes are wide open at every next scene. Feel the tension. Just appreciate how they put something together and don't try think they came up with a message to get across and wrote a movie around it.
I loved this film. It has an ingenious plot with several more or less
unexpected twists. Religion and guilt are major themes in the film;
themes that I felt were examined with a seldomly seen open mindedness.
The acting is strong from all characters, and the portrait of the
characters adds realism to the story as they are portrayed in a very
down-to-earth, human way. I felt I could identify with all the
characters (religious beliefs apart) in the film. I also think it
succeeds in executing what I gather was one of its resolutions; telling
the story of a terrible event without passing too much judgment.
The performance of Gael Garcia Bernal is solid and that of Pell James wonderful. In my opinion the two played really well together, as did William Hurt and Gael Garcia Bernal. I went ahead and watched this film without knowing anything in beforehand (I went to the cinema and chose a name from the list) which I think was appropriate for this type of film. Having known a lot in beforehand could perhaps have made it more predictable and less good. The film is interesting also in the fact that scenes depicting what in reality would be very morbid are made beautiful, a fact that pulls the viewer into the lovely high where beautiful film-making makes you want to be a writer yourself. This is not something you'll want to miss out on!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Possibly the gentlest movie about incest and murder ever made. Gael García Bernal stars as Elvis, a man who has just been released from the Navy. He has no one, so he seeks out his father, a man whom he has never met. He discovers the man (played by William Hurt) is an evangelical priest with the perfect American family (wife: Laura Harring; children: Paul Dano and Pell James), and that he doesn't want to acknowledge Elvis as his son. Meanwhile, Elvis starts up a flirtation with his half sister (who doesn't know). We realize quickly that there's something not quite right about the guy mentally. The film plays kind of like a really low key Cape Fear. Except that Elvis seems, for all practical purposes, a really sweet and gentle man. The movie got some flack for its treatment of evangelical Christians, but I can't think of any movie that's more fair about the subject. Sure, William Hurt is kind of a hypocrite, but when he tries to make amends, he's sincere about it. Not much happens in the film, but the characters' relationships are drawn masterfully with few brushstrokes. The acting is excellent (if the film had been better received, Pell James would have been a breakout star), and it has the second best musical score of 2006 (after The Fountain). It's an extremely sad picture, and one that I'm sure will haunt me for a long while afterward. One of the best of the year.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Hard to recommend, or enjoy, this film due to its unlikable subject
matter; incest, betrayal, hatred, religious fervor, murder, and
isolation are some of the more disturbing themes examined in THE KING.
Yet I did find myself enraptured with it, and that was mainly due to the performances. Spanish heartthrob Gael Garcia Bernal (Motorcycle Diaries, Amores Perros) simply captivates as Elvis, a recently discharged Marine who heads to Texas to reconnect with the father he never knew. But his father, fundamentalist preacher David Sandow (William Hurt) has no intentions of welcoming his illegitimate child, born out of wedlock to a Mexican woman "before he was saved", into his current family. That's when the cold, calculating Elvis sets his plan into motion, one that involves seducing his 16-year-old stepsister (Pell James in a remarkable per-formance),eliminating his bothersome stepbrother, and eventually bringing the entire family to an untimely end.
As I said, tough subject matter to like, but the engrossing performances make the difficult topics easier to digest. Bernal's take on the sadistic psychopath role is refreshing, as he uses his good looks, disarming smile and smoldering eyes to convey sympathy that belies his intentions. Hurt has rarely been better as the preacher who uses religion to cover his sins; his turnaround with Elvis after his other son "disappears" is alarming and speaks volumes about his character's true self. James is magnetic playing the innocent waif who falls for the conniving trick played by Elvis, and when she learns the truth her reaction nearly brought me to tears. Even the underdeveloped role by Laura Herring (Mulholland Drive) as the wife carries weight, although she was used much too little.
All in all a fascinating look at some difficult subjects that was made watchable by the actors involved. And while I cannot recommend the film, it has some attributes that will make it difficult to forget.
No, this movie is not a sequel to The Queen, and it's peculiar to have
both The King and The Queen making their screenings at our theatres at
the same time. If given a choice to make, I would recommend The King
This movie reminded me of Woody Allen's Matchpoint. Different stories altogether, but with the general sense and feeling of incredible luck, and evilness amongst man. You can't help but wonder that each one of us have the propensity to do evil, and just what might exactly push our button to commit sin. Lust, revenge, and pride clearly on display in James Marsh's The King.
There are various Kings here, the first which is most obvious, the main protagonist's name Elvis Valderez, played by Gael Garcia Bernal. Recently discharged from the Navy, he's on a trip to Texas to look up the father he never knew, who turned out to be a pastor, clearly already having moved on from his mother. The other notable King here, is pertaining to religion, given that Jesus Christ is acknowledged by Christians to be the King of Kings. I thought William Hurt put up a credible performance as the strict Pastor David Sandow, who now serves a little community, with possibly a happy family befitting a good Christian family.
And perchance it is the ghost from the past, his illegitimate son Elvis, who's now the devil in his midst of them, slowly bringing down the facade and hypocrisy surrounding the Sandows, and exposing them for who they truly are. It's quite a dark movie, and made possible so as the devil has an innocent, possibly angelic face (thanks to Gael), and little do you know the kind of evil that lurks around. Which probably makes it all the more dangerous as the saying goes, you know the person, but not what is in his heart - the motives, if ulterior.
Having to say more will most likely spoil the entire movie. I liked the pacing that the story took, on having it all laid out methodically. At times, you question Elvis' intent, if he's truly aware of the repercussions of what he's doing. You might want to argue that love knows no bounds, but there certainly are some clear markers and blinkers to warn you to stay away, at all costs.
The great acting makes The King extremely watchable. William Hurt, as already mentioned, plays his pained pastor with plenty of skeletons in his closet, to a T. Pell James as his daughter Malerie, brings about a fresh faced ingénue to her role, with innocence written all over. For fans of Little Miss Sunshine, Paul Dano has more lines of dialogue here, and even exercises his vocal cords in singing two songs. His role as son Paul is contrasted against Elvis the illegitimate son - one devoted to God, the other the devil himself, one living his life with a cause, the other living his without any aim, except probably to groove along waiting for acceptance.
There are many releases this week (last count was nine), but The King ranks up there amongst the much watch.
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