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10/10
Every Little Bit
Donald Agustamarian1 January 2005
Over the years this little gem of a film has become a personal favourite. I revisit it continuously, I enjoy showing it to someone who never heard of it and it never fails. The emotions are renewed and reinvigorated with each viewing. Jesse Bradford is simply phenomenal and so is Adrian Brody, yes him, "the kissing pianist" in a remarkable early performance. The face of Karen Allen, as the teacher, listening to Jesse Bradford read his tall tale, profoundly aware that she has someone truly special in her class, is so beautiful that goes in an out of my memory bank more often than the names of some of my closest relatives. Spalding Gray and Elizabeth McGovern's characters deserve a full movie of their own. Lisa Eichhorn's tender fear of having to leave her children behind is just another of the ravishing notes of this stunning film. If you haven't seen it. Give yourself the pleasure. You are going to love every little bit of it.
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10/10
The best American film of the nineties
AdFin16 February 2002
Without a doubt, I would argue King of the Hill to be the best American film of the 1990's above any other American film you can think of. The subtlety of the performances and the evocative production design pull you into the carefully constructed world of Aaron Kurlander, building the right level oh humour and drama, and never allowing it's self to become bogged down with tacky sentimentality. Steven Soderbergh really out-did himself with this one, and it's by far the best thing he's done, you can forget the overrated, over-hyped Oscar nabbing rubbish of Traffic, this showed a young director willing to experiment with tried and tested film-making techniques and find the right visual language for the film. King of the Hill is a film that is so deliberately paced, and so elegantly put together, that at times it's as though your not watching an American film at all, there is such a European atmosphere that it seems out of place with some of the other U.S. film released in the same year (Jurassic Park, Mrs Doubtfire and Cliffhanger being just three of the top grossing movies of ‘93).

So is it any wonder that King of the Hill failed to set the box office alight with popcorn based seat fillers like that, I mean, who wants to see the story of a young boy coming of age under the harshest conditions when you can see Robin Williams vacuuming in drag to the sounds of Aerosmith. Yeah, sounds like a safe bet for all the family. But King of the Hill is such a good movie, that the hard-to-describe plot should be overlooked, and people should just give it a chance, they will be so moved by Aaron's plight, and so drawn in by Soderbergh's direction (coupled with Elliot Davis' composition heavy cinematography) and detailed production design that they will not be able to pull themselves away. Added to that the great acting from the entirety of the eclectic cast, that includes Jeroen Krabbe, Spalding Grey, Elizabeth McGovern, Karen Allen, new comers Jesse Bradford and Cameron Boyd, and (then) unknowns Adrien Brody (who was great as Ritchie in Spike Lee's Summer of Sam) and Roswell star Katherine Heigl. Soderbergh's handling of his young actors is nothing short of genius, their characters and characterization is multi-layered to the extent that we never doubt that their characters are real.

King of the Hill is an unbelievable film that, as I have already said, is (in my opinion) the greatest American film of the nineties and should be seen by everyone who is a fan of not just intelligent cinema, but film lover's in general. And it's about time the film got some kind of proper video and/or DVD release, as it's unavailability is scandalous. 10/10
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8/10
Sumptuous period coming-of-age melodrama
thehumanduvet18 June 2001
Beautifully shot and played, this tale of a young boy coping with the depression better than his father (who has left him alone in seek of work) trips along nicely, detailing the superkid's adventures in thirties America in rich colours and lavish period detail. Although it could be accused of overdoing the rose-tinted spectacles, it's a warm and mellow look at a dark and grimy time, and includes enough unpleasantness to keep that fact in the viewer's mind. Although the hotel-dwelling salesman living on the edge of subsistence is not a new theme, any more than that of the capable child flourishing in adversity, Soderberg brings a timeless quality and a steady, gentle mood to this piece, making it more about the hearts of the people than the tragic times which are displayed. Jesse Bradford, as the central child, and Adrien Brody as his older friend, really shine. Nice.
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9/10
This is not Norman Rockwell's America
I can recall first seeing "King of the Hill" shorty after its initial release when I wasn't much older than the main character, Aaron (Jesse Bradford, who displays the natural swagger of a young George Clooney here). I was totally enthralled by the story, and this was one of the pieces that ushered in my complete love for and eerie obsession with Depression Era America.

Steven Soderbergh as a director over the years has been wildly all over the map traversing genres and styles from top-notch cracker-jack indie flicks (the superb "Limey") to vapid star-studded populist entertainment (the "Oceans" series) to entertaining star vehicles (the excellent "Erin Brockovich") to overblown misguided message movies ("Traffic") to Kubrickian quandaries (the unfairly maligned "Solaris"). In 1993, still in his formative early years, he hit all the right notes with his vividly detailed and heartbreaking tale of a young boy (Bradford) abandoned in a sleazy hotel room on the edge of a Hooverville in 1933 St. Louise by his flaky salesman father, consumption riddled mother, and little brother who got shipped off to live with relatives so he wouldn't starve to death. The boy lies, steals, woos girls and wins academic awards at school propelled only by his keen wit and innate will to survive. Soderbergh brilliantly abandons almost all sentimentality (the exchanges between the brothers are heartfelt but raw, between mother and son tragically subdued, and between father and son frightfully cold yet honest) and views not the actions of the characters through the lens of our modern moral codes, but through the lens of the era in which the characters survived.

Special note has to be given to the cinematography, which in lesser period pieces can so easily succumb to stylish excess. The film looks real and puts you right there in the middle of this American quagmire. There's also one amazingly rendered shot of a traffic cop holding up a squealing street urchin by the ear after capturing the boy stealing an apple that is so painstakingly lighted and framed that it serves as the complete flip-side of your classic Norman Rockwell painting from the same era.

Viewing this film recently on cable, I was even more transfixed than the first time over thirteen years ago. There's also delight to be found in seeing Oscar winner Adrien Brody in his first major role as Aaron's "big brother" role model, and Grammy winner Lauryn Hill in a nice bit part as a sympathetic gum-chewing elevator operator.

Although historically little seen, this film has been universally lauded, and as the early masterwork of an Oscar winning director, it's a crime that there has been no DVD release.
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10/10
Spielberg eat your heart out, this is a real feel good movie
Dan DeVore12 March 2005
Not to be confused with that T.V. show thing. King of the Hill is one of the most vivid film experiences I remember as a child. No, I wasn't lucky enough to catch it on the big screen. Instead I rented it and watched it one night and was totally absorbed into it. Jesse Bradford, despite his current film career, did a damn fine job as Aaron Kurlander, a young boy struggling to survive during the Great Depression. He uses his wits and imagination to make the best out of the worst of times. Bradford was 12 or 13 years old at the time he filmed the movie and as an actor it must've been a heavy burden. The main focus is on him as its his story and shown from his point of view. Bradford doesn't let the ball drop once and more than carries his weight. It's another one of those rare great child performances. Jeroen Krabbé plays Aaron's (Bradford) father who is a struggling traveling salesman. Lisa Eichhorn plays his mentally unstable mother who goes in and out of various institutions. Rounding out the cast of the interesting people that fill Aaron's life are Karen Allen as the warm and understanding school teacher, Cameron Boyd his younger brother, Adrien Brody as the "cool" big brother figure, John McConnell as the fat and troublesome patrol cop, Elizabeth McGovern as a prostitute working in the same hotel Aaron lives at, and Spalding Gray as her creepy, manipulative, and suicidal pimp. So yes the film is filled to the brim with worth while supporting players adding so much depth and dimension to Aaron's world.

Soderbergh had double duty as writer and director. He scripted the novel by A.E. Hotchner and I think it's his best film. As I mentioned it takes place during the Great Depression in St. Louis Missouri. Watching Aaron fight for survival is one of the best charms of the film. It's done realistically. The audience is able to believe his methods. There's a nice mix of drama, dark somber humor and dire situations, but there's also enough humanity and hope in the movie to send an uplifting message. For those who enjoy Andy Dufresne's message of hope and persaverence in the more widely known The Shawshank Redemption, seek out this film. I would argue it's even superior to Frank Darabont's movie. It's one of the great and underrated modern films and ranks with the best using the Great Depression setting. Sadly King of the Hill isn't released yet on DVD and it's not very likely that you'll be able to find it at your local video store. Especially if all you have is the local communist Blockbuster near you. Anyway, King of the Hill should be regarded and known far more highly than what it is. It's a sin for a movie this great to not get its due.

Grade: A+
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10/10
Really enjoyable
trpdean24 March 2004
Everything works with this one. Really interesting and heart-rending story, great characters, fine sets, lighting, costumes, music, excellent acting.

Someone compared this to The Pianist and I see what he means. It reminds me of a movie like Paper Moon, but whereas I disliked the Tatum O'Neal character (stealing from those who could not afford to lose the money), I really like this boy. I also think the pangs of missing family, what it's like to be a child, are more realistically done in this movie than in Paper Moon.

I really can't imagine anyone who wouldn't like this - it's very mainstream, very good - and in contrast to those who say this reminds them of some European movie, I would say it's as American as apple pie.

I highly recommend it. (It also helps that Lisa Eichorn is my favorite living actress - and Karen Allen would be in the top ten).
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9/10
Moving Memoir With Hard-Won Triumphs & Great Cast of Present & Future Stars
Warning: Spoilers
Based on A.E. Hotchner's memoirs, writer/director Steven Soderbergh's 1993 adaptation of KING OF THE HILL (KofH) is the poignant, often dark, but ultimately uplifting story of 12-year-old Aaron Kurlander (Jesse Bradford, who comes across as sensitive and resilient at the same time), whose family struggles to get by in St. Louis, Missouri during The Great Depression. Like many of their neighbors, the Kurlanders can barely hold onto their cheap, shabby hotel room, though they do their best to find work and keep up a facade of doing well. Aaron contributes to the charade by telling his classmates wild yet convincingly-told stories of the glamor of his parents' lives as spies and archaeologists hobnobbing with the likes of Charles Lindbergh. Despite the Kurlanders' best efforts, they're slowly pulled apart when Aaron's traveling salesman dad (Jeroen Krabbe) can't make enough money to feed everyone. Soon Aaron's little brother Sullivan (the appealing Cameron Boyd, who looks strikingly like a little-boy version of the Olsen twins back in their FULL HOUSE days) is sent to live with relatives for the time being; Mom (Lisa Eichhorn) has TB, eventually going to a sanitarium; and finally Dad finds a job as a traveling watch salesman in Oklahoma, leaving Aaron to fend for himself and dodge the mean hotel porter to keep from being locked out of the family's apartment.

Aaron tries all kinds of money-making schemes so he can bring his family back home, but it seems like God or Fate or whoever is in charge of KotH's universe insists on bitch-slapping the kid every step of the way. A rich, sympathetic classmate (who doesn't know Aaron's broke because our hero is too proud to admit it) gives Aaron canaries to breed in order to sell them to the pet shop, but when the canaries are born, they're all female, and female canaries don't sing, so all Aaron can get is 50¢ for the lot of them. A pre-PIANIST Adrien Brody, about 19 or 20 during filming, is a raffish presence as Lester, the juvenile delinquent down the hall with a heart of gold and a brotherly attitude towards Aaron. Lester tries to include the kid in jobs such as caddying for rich golfers, but Aaron tees them off by losing the ball in the ball-washing doohickey. Aaron tries to be kind to their neighbor Ella (Amber Benson), a sickly but sweet young girl, but that backfires when she gets so nervous dancing with him that she has an epileptic fit. When Aaron gets a medal during his graduation ceremony (nice bit with Lester there to cheer as Aaron's name is called, what with the Kurlanders being scattered all over the country), even that bit of joy is snatched from him as he overhears jealous classmates whispering that he only got the medal because the school authorities know he's poor and feel sorry for him (yeah, it couldn't possibly be because Aaron gets the best grades and writes imaginative stories and essays that blow those over-privileged brats out of the water).

Over the course of KotH, just about everyone Aaron cares about is either sent away, moves away, dies, or gets arrested. Jeez, if it wasn't one thing, it was another! Interestingly, it seems like every time Aaron has an emotional upheaval, the film becomes more beautiful to look at, thanks to Elliot Davis' golden-hued photography, and yet the film's beauty doesn't cheapen or sentimentalize the painful events our young hero must live through. Aaron and the film's other good guys are kind-hearted, unself-pitying, and earnest enough that I was rooting for them even as I groaned to myself, "Good grief, isn't this poor kid ever gonna catch a break?" Much like the final reel of THE PIANIST, when the resourceful Aaron's plans to reunite his family finally succeed and life becomes good again, it's as much of a relief to us viewers as it is to the Kurlanders. Soderbergh's adaptation of Hotchner's life story often slathers the misery on so thick, I was still afraid something else might go horribly wrong for our beleaguered hero at the last minute. (For instance, as little brother Sullivan jumps up and down on his new bed, I half-expected him to accidentally bounce off the bed and break his neck. Don't worry, he doesn't. :-)). I came away with the feeling that Aaron would never again take the good things in his life for granted. The delicate balance of drama and humor in Soderbergh's fine writing and direction, as well as superb acting from an ensemble that also includes Spalding Gray, Elizabeth McGovern, Karen Allen, and Lauryn Hill -- yup, that Lauryn Hill (who later appeared with Brody in the 1998 indie drama RESTAURANT) -- makes KotH a little gem well worth seeking out on TV, especially since it's still not on DVD but has been on the HBO and Cinemax lineups lately as of this writing. If you like fact-based stories about young people overcoming obstacles, or if you want to catch folks like Brody, Bradford, or a very young Katherine Heigl in memorable early roles, check out KotH.
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10/10
Neglected Little Gem
ptcan11 November 2005
This is a beautiful movie about an enterprising young man who survives various hardships during the depression. It has a bitter edge but isn't excessive and brings back tales of my grandmother's of how her family coped during the depression. My grandmother's parents were far more functional than the frail ill mother and the traveling salesman father who basically abandons his child to work out of state. I agree with other comments it hardly seems American because it is so deep without smashing the hammer down on our heads. Even though it is harsh I think it is suitable for older children if nothing more than an abject lesson about how real and difficult life really was. The irony is that America still exists to a lesser degree we just don't see it in the movies or on TV.
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10/10
Soderbergh's usual technical mastery, but more heart
sacusanov21 November 2005
As Soderbergh has risen to the stratosphere of Hollywood enablers, he seems to have replaced character with something else -- odd collections of in-jokes, hand ringing and Oscar-worthy speeches. If he's connected with the pulse of America, he has done so by losing the pulse of his stories. Even his small anti-commercial films seem to have lost their human touch. Oh, they're fun, and technically masterful all -- but looking back only this one suggests the small Satyajit Ray style humanist Soderburgh might have become if he didn't have the mega-hit touch. A part of me mourns the loss, though another part of me imagines how horribly treakly Erin Brockovich would have been with any other helmer. I've spent a lot of good hours watching his works, but only a couple great hours, and this 1 hour and 43 minutes of greatness
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9/10
Shattering and unforgettable
joelovesbabs10 August 2003
Soderbergh delivers a heartfelt story that is both entertaining and compelling, without getting too overly sentimental, but moving and inspiring nevertheless. The impeccable cast includes a smashing young Jesse Bradford and a very appealing Adrien Brody in an early role. A definite must.
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9/10
A wonderful film!
JimC-79 July 2005
What a wonderful film. So evocative of the 1930s.

Jesse Bradford was terrific as the main character. I had the opportunity in 2004 while working as an extra on Oceans 12 in Chicago to tell the director of "King of the Hill", Steven Soderbergh, what a great film he made (He said "thank you"). How did he ever find such a beautiful story and get the job to direct the film? An overlooked classic! I was glad to see recently that Jesse Bradford has been making a career as an adult actor now, appearing in several recent films, and he will be one of the lead characters in Clint Eastwoods's upcoming production, "Flags of our Fathers", due out in 2006. Also, with Jesse's training in film studies in college, I predict that he will turn to directing movies as he gets more experience, and what better mentor than Clint Eastwood! Be sure to see "king of the Hill", i believe you will love it.
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The Spirit of St Louis
tieman6416 February 2010
Warning: Spoilers
In the mid 1990s, a streak of coming-of-age flicks were released, each trying to emulate the tone and style of Rob Reiner's "Stand by me" (1986).

"Stand by Me" led to the TV series "The Wonder Years" (1988) which led to Woody Allen's "Radio Days", "Brighton Beach Memoirs", "Man in the Moon" (1991), "Radio Flyer" (1992), "Jack the Bear" (1993), "This Boys Life" (1993), "Searching For Bobby Fisher" (1993), "King of the Hill", "American Heart", "Now and Then" (1995), "Unsung Heroes" (1995), "The Mighty" (1998), "Simon Birch" (1998) etc.

These films all employed a romantic visual style which recalled the paintings of Norman Rockwell. They featured older and wiser narrators who reminisced about their childhood days, revolved around small groups of young boys, largely took place in the 1960s and early 70s, and oozed a sense of nostalgia.

Essentially, these films were also about the same thing: escape. These kids (or rather their future adult/narrator selves) are all searching for a romanticised version of America. A forgotten - or perhaps nonexistent - age of white picket fences, carefree wandering, pop sodas and family dinners. Behind all this comfortable nostalgia, though, is a palatable sense of menace. Abuse, suicide, murder, the lingering effects of the Vietnam war and drunken fathers, all linger in the background.

This trend started in the 1980s, by artists who were born post WW2 and became young men in the turbulent 60s. By the late 1990s the "unseen enemy" of these films stopped being about war, poverty, absent fathers, abuse and alcoholism, and started to be about disease and genetic disorders. Though fading, the idealised Norman Rockwell version of Americana was still there, but now Generation X seemed to obsess over diseases and genetics. For Generation X, misery seemed to be all about ailments and genetic predisposition, like the kids with Morquio's syndrome in "The Mighty" and "Simon Birch" or AIDS in "The Cure".

"King of the Kill", a little known film by Steven Soderbergh, is however quite different from all the other films in this wave. Directed by a young man, the film is set in St Louis during the Great Depression, and focuses on a young school boy called Aaron who uses his wits to survive the economic hardships of 1930's America.

An imaginative and creative boy, Aaron must survive on his own when his father abandons him, his mother is locked away in a mental hospital and his little brother is sent off to boarding school. Initially Aaron takes to these dilemmas with strong shoulders, but gradually his harsh world begins to suffocate him. He has no food, he's in constant fear of losing his apartment and is mocked by his classmates for being poor. Every misery and mishap imaginable seems to happen to Aaron, but the film, despite being shot in sepia hues, never becomes maudlin or implausible. Soderbergh lets the film unfold like Truffaut, mixing tragedy with a very sensitive, deft touch.

Now at first glance the film seems to be celebrating resilience, creativity and that good ole American Spirit. Indeed, the film begins with Aaron reading a story he wrote about Charles Lindberg and the Spirit Of St Louis, the first man and plane to cross the Atlantic. Aaron, like Charles, is a symbol of heroism, persistence, national pride and creativity, a man/boy who triumphs despite the odds.

But look closer and something darker seems to be going on. Aaron thinks up a genius scheme to sell birds to make money, but his birds are the wrong sex and aren't worth anything. Aaron then schemes to find the perfect clothes for a school function (in which he wins a top prize), but despite succeeding is teased by his classmates. Aaron, starving and hungry for food, then has enough imagination to cut out pictures of food from a book, but when he eats them, gets sick the following day. Likewise, Aaron is promised food at a restaurant, but the manager refuses the deal and callously turns him away.

Now think back to Aaron's scheme to breed birds and sell them for their money. Aaron takes the birds to a pet store and attempts to sell them, at which point the store owner tells him the birds are worthless because of their sex. Aaron agrees and walks away, the camera lingering suspiciously on the store owner for a moment. In an instant we know that this boy is being taken advantage of, and that the store owner stands to gain far more than the boy will.

The end result is that the "Spirit of St Louis" is not celebrated, but shown to be the cause of hardship. For one to triumph, another must suffer. For the poor man in the shop to make money, he must rip off a little kid. For a restaurant owner to stay in business, a poor boy must go hungry. In other words, The Great American Spirit is itself a selfish, debased thing, a grand cycle of victors triumphing over others. This, of course, flies in the face of the doctrines and myths espoused by every free-market fundamentalist, despite being backed up by every post neoclassical economist who charts the thermodynamic properties of debt-issued currency. Currency, by the way, is Soderbergh's unacknowledged obsession ("The Girlfriend Experience", "Side Effects", "Contagion", "Che", "Magic Mike", the "Ocean" movies etc).

8/10 – Worth one viewing. See "Seven Beauties".
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8/10
Adrien Brody is a great actor. Soderburg must see this film in order to reinvent his old style.
FilmCriticLalitRao14 June 2007
The good and unique thing about "King of the hill" is that it cannot be pigeonholed. It is neither the run of the mill, hippie dippy graced by the box office Hollywood flick not it is a sensible sample of the American independent movement. It is a film which is rarely made these days. This is because such films are made through a stroke of luck. A must for all the young kids who have ever had a bold direct personal encounter with poverty. Jesse Bradford is a joy to behold. So are Jeroen Krabbe, Splading Gray and Elisabeth Mcgovern. However the crowd puller is the great performance by Adrien Brody. He plays his role with tremendous dedication. Anyone could have easily predicted that he is a star in the making. As far as captain soderburg is concerned. Just a word of advice : kindly reinvent your lost style by watching some of your old films. May be the world might surely benefit due to your watching your own films.
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8/10
Good Depression-era flick
zetes10 March 2013
A charming and gentle period piece set during the Depression. Jesse Bradford stars as a teen whose family, along with so much of America, is not doing well financially. They've moved into a hotel, and the father's traveling salesman gig is going terribly. Bradford's younger brother is sent away to their uncle's place and, soon after, his mother has to go stay in a sanitarium. Finally, his father gets a job selling watches out west, and is forced to leave Bradford alone in the hotel room, surviving on a very small sum. Bradford's a resourceful kid, but he struggles to outlast the ordeal. Jeroen Krabbe and Lisa Eichhorn play Bradford's parents. Other familiar faces include Spalding Gray, Elizabeth McGovern, Karen Allen and Adrien Brody (I don't think I'd ever seen him in a movie before The Pianist, although, looking it up, apparently he shows up in an uncredited role in Natural Born Killers). The film is somewhat reminiscent of the classic Depression-era film Wild Boys of the Road, though this one is actually a lot less gritty. This film has never been available on DVD (it was on VHS), but it has recently popped up on Netflix Instant. It streams in its original aspect ratio and, all around, it looked gorgeous.
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7/10
Fine film
AKS-618 August 2000
"King of the Hill" is a great film. The acting is brilliant. Jesse Bradford is a stand out and it's one of those performances where you're awed by the fact that someone that young can be such a fantastic actor (like with Haley Joel Osment in "The Sixth Sense" and Eamonn Owens in "The Butcher Boy"). It's also interesting to see Adrien Brody in an early role as I just noticed him a few weeks ago when I saw "Summer of Sam". The film itself is also a very interesting and touching drama. Bravo Soderbergh! (7/10)
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10/10
An example of EXCELLENT but criminally underrated film making.
Ryan-B9 April 2002
King of the Hill was first introduced to me at about 1:00am GMT where it was screened on television. Although I felt tired at the time having worked a full day, from the minute Aaron started his talk to the closing credits, I was glued to the screen.

The lush visuals of KOTH are nothing short of spectacular. The noir imagery of the hotel, with the depression era setting fit perfectly. the visuals are matched by amazing scores from Cliff Martinez who makes an excellent choice of music, showing depressive tones with a feeling of hope.

Likewise the acting is just flawless. Jesse Bradford should have been Oscar nominated, and Jeroen Krabbé, known for his bad guy parts, turns in a superb performance as Aaron's father. Adrien Brody, who will be known to viewers from Thin Red Line and Summer of Sam, makes a hugely welcome addition as Lester, Aaron's compadré. Lauryn Hill even makes an impressive cameo.

Which brings me to the supporting cast. I have never seen such an amazing ensemble of supports. Each have their own backstory, and you could swear that you knew these people after the film. They do not get as much screentime as Aaron, but the impact they make and the suggestions made of their past and future paint their picture out very fully. I was amazed at how many times I watched the film and picked out something new every time.

You could be forgiven for thinking that this is not a Soderbergh film, and while he has gone onto make more critically acclaimed films (Traffic, even Oceans Eleven), this will surely be his best. In fact, it is one of the best films I have ever seen. Sadly, it's the most underrated film ever made. I am quite sad because I know, in the back of my mind, that only a handful of people (in relative terms) will ever see this.

This movie is very hard to get nowadays, (I had to search for two years to find a copy on VHS in the USA nonetheless) and I admit you might not want to do as an exhaustive search for it as I did if you haven't seen the film. But for those who have, King of the Hill is a must-see, and I only hope a Special Edition DVD will be made.

5 out of 5
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8/10
Beating Depression in St. Louis
pmarquis10 February 2006
I enjoyed this movie more than I thought I would. This is an evocative tale of life before food banks and the welfare system. Watching the young protagonist pretend he enjoyed eating his "delicious" cut-from-a-magazine food was pretty poignant. The performances put in by the young actors are believable without being too sappy. Jesse Bradford is charming. Also worth seeing is Adrien Brody. He sparkles with a to-the-gut vitality. But in the end it is the kid's grit and determination that holds this movie together. His pride in himself and his dogged pursuit of his creativity, integrity and ingenuity makes this movie worth seeing. A great scene to be on the look out for is when the beautiful gum-snapping elevator girl gives the young Aaron a graduation gift. In addition, I especially enjoyed John McConnell's performance as the mean "Big Butt" cop. I'm pretty sure he was also in the recent Ladykillers with Tom Hanks. He's fun to watch.
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8/10
St. Louis Blues
Bill Slocum9 March 2015
A coming-of-age story set in the nadir of the Great Depression, "King Of The Hill" presents a series of episodes as seen by adolescent Aaron Kurlander (Jesse Bradford), whose descent into full-on poverty and seeming abandonment while holed up in a seedy St. Louis hotel doesn't deprive him of his wit or imagination. The more circumstances place him on the narrowest margins of life, the more he bears down.

Summarizing "King Of The Hill" is much less easy than simply enjoying it. Taken from the memoir of A. E. Hotchner, "King Of The Hill" is not so much a single story but a series of vignettes involving Aaron's experiences during the spring and summer of 1933. The pictures are often beautiful, sunlight streaming everywhere without a cloud in the sky, but you always see the sweat on the faces.

As Aaron tells his younger brother Sullivan (Cameron Boyd): "All the important stuff can't be taught. It has to be learned."

For Aaron, this means faking it. A lot. The movie opens with him in a fancy public school where he isn't supposed to be, reading aloud his tale of receiving a phone call from Charles Lindbergh just before the latter's solo flight across the Atlantic. Later, he tells Sullivan how not to get in trouble when filching meals from more advantaged classmates. "I told you a thousand times, you only take food from the fat kids, and you never take a kid's dessert."

All this could be grim material in another director's hands, but Steven Soderbergh applies a delicate touch throughout, aided by the sterling lenswork of Eliot Davis and a beguiling score (by Cliff Martinez and Michael Glenn Williams) mixed with some understated period music.

Everything is understated in "King Of The Hill." There are some rotten characters about, like a bullying cop and a nasty bellhop at the poorly-named Empire Hotel, which is in the process of tossing their many indigent tenants out. But most of the people Aaron meets, even the rich ones, are decent. A well-heeled boy named Billy (Chris Samples) shows Aaron how to make some money breeding canaries, while his teacher (Karen Allen) does what she can to help Aaron despite knowing he lives outside her district.

In the excellent DVD package put out by Criterion, Soderbergh expresses some dissatisfaction with "King Of The Hill," wishing he had made it "grittier." I doubt the film would be such a sleeper for so many had it taken a harder approach. We see Aaron alone in his apartment, in fear of being locked out (his often-absent father owes $172 he can't pay), making due with a meal from pictures of food cut out of a magazine, while outside the streets roar with the din of policemen tearing down a nearby Hooverville. You need the humor and the beauty to cut away from that and give us a window into Aaron's fertile, optimistic mind.

Bradford is brilliant and affecting in the lead role, aided by a colorful supporting cast that includes Spalding Gray as a mysterious, down-on-his-luck man across the hall; Adrien Brody as Aaron's streetwise pal; and Amber Benson as a sickly neighbor named Ella who nurses a crush on Aaron, who tries to be nice but isn't yet interested in such things. Even rap star Lauryn Hill is on hand as an elevator operator, and a pre-teen Katherine Heigl, too, as a well- off classmate whom Aaron tries to impress with stories of his parents being lost on an archaeology expedition.

"They've been lost lots of times," Aaron says, trying to tamp down her responsive anxiety, in a scene that might be more tragic if it wasn't so funny.

There are glimmers of hope in this bleak vision, but even the ending leaves you feeling more unsettled than reassured. There are no easy answers in the world Aaron lives in, just a precious will to endure.

The lack of a central, unifying story makes "King Of The Hill" a challenge to enjoy as thoroughly as one might, and there's sometimes a patness to the way good and bad things happen for Aaron. But overall, "King" is triumphant, and a film that stays with you when it is over.
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10/10
An unknown movie that deserves to be well-known
preppy-323 January 2012
In the 1933 Depression, Aaron (an impossibly young Jesse Bradford) is left all alone after his brother is sent away, his mother put in a sanitarium and his father has to leave to work for money. We see what the Depression was REALLY like through young Aaron's eyes. Too often the 1930s are romanticized...but not here!

It is grim and powerful but there's also some very funny moments and a GREAT happy ending that was (more or less) believable. I read and studied the Depression in school and this movie got everything right--especially about the hell people went through. Also it looks fantastic! They got the cars, clothes, houses and everything right on target. This movie also has an incredible cast. Jeroen Krabbe (faking an American accent pretty well), Lisa Eichorn, Spaulding Grey, Karen Allen and Elizabeth McGovern all have small roles but are great in them, but it's Bradford who holds the film together. He was only 14 when he did this and he's GREAT! He anchors the film and is believable every step of the way. Also look for an unknown Katherine Heigl and future Oscar winner Adien Brody in small roles. This was a hard movie to market and the studio didn't even try. It died pretty quickly. I only caught it by accident on cable and was blown away by how good it is. This is an excellent film and easily one of the best film of the 1990s. A definite must see!
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10/10
Perfect Film
A_Different_Drummer19 September 2015
Simple review.

When Olympic judges rate a performance, they look for flaws and deduct accordingly.

When beauty contest judges look at a pretty girl, they do not look at what works, they look at what doesn't.

Same with film reviews.

I watched mesmerized. One of the most perfect films I have ever seen. Perfect casting, action, direction, writing, pacing, music.

Possibly one of the most perfect films ever.

And, most astonishing of all, not well known even to film buffs.
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emotions
Armand31 May 2014
it is not exactly a movie. but a very precise map. for feelings, emotions and essence of a period from American history. example of admirable script and acting, it is a film of strong characters and deep exploration of atmosphere pieces. a touching film who reminds old truths and gives a splendid story. short, a film about courage and hope with a magnificent young Jesse Bradford. one of films who, after years, preserves in its title sound not insignificant memories. a film by Soderbergh who can be useful for many viewers. not only for certainly artistic virtues but for a story not very rare but powerful and convincing in every moment. a real good film. see it !
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Lovely hidden gem
SanTropez_Couch19 April 2003
Steven Soderbergh is a talented, experimental, sometimes avant-garde filmmaker that doesn't make jokey movies (the Coen Brothers) or gimmicky ones (Christopher Nolan) or Tarantino ones. In even his more mainstream movies, he's distinguished. He's one of the few (relatively) young directors that makes "real" movies (not to knock the "fake" ones) about a wide array of subjects. He doesn't need to be cool or ambiguous all the time.

Set in St. Louis in 1933, "King of the Hill" is like a light kids version of "The Pianist" (it's even got Adrien Brody!). The film centers around the 12 year-old Aaron Kurlander, and his family -- his mother, father, and younger brother, Sullivan. The Depression is in full force, and Aaron's parents have come to the agreement that the only way to save money and be able to continue raising their two sons is to have young Sullivan shipped off on a Greyhound bus to live with his uncle. Soon thereafter, Aaron's mother is taken out of the picture when she has to go for a stay at a sanitarium. The family lives in a hotel run by a bank, and Aaron's father isn't paying the bills; soon he's out of the picture when he goes off looking for work, leaving Aaron on his own to fend for himself.

He makes friends with a rich nerdy kid at school when he rescues him from some school marble bullies, and comes up with schemes of how to make money, like having canary's mate, since a newborn will fetch three dollars. He spins tall tales in order to get by at school, like telling his teacher that his parents work for the government. His hunky, older pal also living in the hotel, Lester (Adrien Brody) helps him about; in one incident they end up stealing Aaron's father's car, and with Aaron too small to be able to reach the brake pedal, he ends up going on a scary trip around town.

When one girl from school invites him over for supper, he gets caught in his own web of deceit when the school kids, at an after-graduation party where Aaron wins a special prize, hear different stories about what his parents really are. (Government workers, archaeologists, pilots.) At the same party, he's exposed for what (they think) he is: a poor kid and a teacher's pet.

He befriends a gawky girl in his hotel with a crush on him when she invites him over for hot dogs and dancing, but ends up having some sort of fit on the floor. (Epileptic seizure?)

The cop out in the street is just looking to bust some young punk kid, and the hotel bellhop is just waiting for Aaron to slip up, so he can lock him out of his room. (Look fast for Lauryn Hill as the hotel elevator operator!)

The movie looks great, both in the set deco and the juicy, round cinematography. The music is a plus, and nearly all the performances are first-rate. Jesse Bradford, with his big, expressive eyes, is just terrific as Aaron. He's got an ultra-pleasant face to watch, and his acting is totally fresh, without any hint of affectation. (Unlike his father's strange accent.)

"King of the Hill" is a lovely, great-looking period piece. A sometimes heartwarming, sometimes heartbreaking dramedy without any pretensions to be anything other than a good little gem of a movie. And that it is.

****
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Hauntingly beautiful drama
Daniel Marrin30 May 2002
Saw this years ago in 1994, but I still remember vividly the musical

score, especially at that searing moment when Jeroen Krabbe gets into

his car, talks to his son on the street and tells him a story. The

music soars as the boy's eyes widen, realizing his father's not coming

back, because the story being told is far too affectionate not to mean

his dad's about to leave. I remember the shots exactly, and these kind

of moments are why I love film.

Steven, stop making crime thrillers for a little while. Get back to

what you were looking for in this movie. We could use a little more of

it.
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Well-done film with lots of humanity
kickstand2 December 2001
This under-rated gem comes from Steven Soderbergh's "wilderness" years. A solid, well-made film, "King of the Hill" has

none of the splash that charaterizes most of S.S.'s other work; no

kinky plot twists, narrative tricks, or dazzling camera work here.

What this film does offer is a deeply felt portrait of realistic people

in realistic situations, which itself is more than you'll get from most

films these days. Don't expect to be dazzled or swept off your feet

by "King of the Hill;" but don't be surprised if you find yourself

thinking about the poor protagonist and his richly rendered life and

times for days after you see the film.

P.S. Don't miss music star Lauryn Hill as an elevator operator.
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