out of Five
Running time: 127
Penn is terrific and the production values are impressive, but All the King's Men gets lost in a poorly-structured, overly complicated plot that fails to engage.
What's it all about?
Based on the novel by Robert Penn Warren, All the King's Men is essentially a remake of the multiple Oscar winning 1949 film, although you wouldn't know it from the press notes. Sean Penn stars as Willie Stark, a fictionalised politician based on controversial Louisiana Governor Huey Long.
Stark is an idealistic salesman, who runs for governor with the catchy slogan, Nail 'em up!, referring to the crooked politicians standing in the way of social reforms. However, once elected, Stark discovers that in politics you sometimes have to do harm to do good and his increasingly power-crazed administration is soon engulfed in scandal.
Written and directed by Steven Zaillian, the film looks stunning, with impressive set design and glossy photography, even if there's very little in the way of actual colour.
Penn is terrific as Stark, perfectly capturing his man of the people
appeal. His rise to power in the first 30 minutes is exhilarating to watch, particularly during an impressively edited speechmaking sequence.
However, the film then goes rapidly downhill thanks to a poorly structured, overly complicated and frequently dull plot that zips about all over the place, wasting a top notch supporting cast (including Kate Winslet, Mark Ruffalo and Anthony Hopkins) in the process.
Patricia Clarkson and James Gandolfini have better luck with a couple of good scenes each, but the decision to tell the story through the eyes of Jude Law's character (a journalist who becomes Stark's right-hand man) saddles the film with acres of tedious voiceover in Law's dodgy Southern accent and pushes Penn offscreen for large stretches of time.
All the King's Men was clearly envisioned as an Oscar-baiting epic with modern day relevance, but it is hugely disappointing, thanks to a badly structured script and poor characterisation. Rent the original instead.