More noise than signal

The King

This review has been ‘repurposed’ from my other site, theOneliner.com

Elvis (Gael Garcia Bernal), although not that Elvis no matter what the title implies, returns from service in the Marines and sets off to find his estranged father, whom he has never met. Information from his mother leads him to Pastor David Sandow (William Hurt), tending to his devout flock in Generic Smalltown Falls, Biblebelt, USA. David has his own God-fearing family now, consisting of wife Twyla (Laura Harring), son Paul (Paul ‘Bookem’ Dano) and daughter Malerie (Pell James), and he’s not looking to make any additions to it, especially not one that reminds him of his sinful seed spillin’ from the days before he was saved by Jesus, hallelujah.

Elvis takes this, well, it’s difficult to say exactly how he does take this, but he does wind up seducing, or perhaps just plain falling in love with Malerie. His own half-sister. As it happens, this is by no means the strangest or the worst thing he’ll do to the Sandow family.

Although, given how astonishingly sparse a film this turns out to be, I’d better not actually mention what else goes on, as I’m very close to completely abbreviating the entirety of the film with another sentence.

If there’s a point to The King, I’m damned if I can discern it. I went onto this film without knowing much about it, apart from it having a good bunch of actors. I walked out not knowing a great deal more about it, apart from it having a good bunch of acting performances. I’m not even sure what it was trying to position itself as. A black comedy that isn’t funny? Psychological horror that isn’t horrific? Drama that’s not particularly dramatic? All or none of the above? Answers on postcards.

The fault could lie with me, I concede, but I’m not normally that dimwitted. I believe the primary components of The King are staring into the middle distance, and belittling numpties that believe in Intelligent Design. Anything else you glean from this should be taken as a bonus.

Seems harsh, I guess. The King isn’t an unenjoyable film, by a very long chalk. For (I believe) his first feature length English-language outing Gael Garcia Bernal (of The Motorcycle Diaries and Bad Education fame) does splendidly, and Bill Hurt as the overbearing, proud preacher humbled before events is amongst his most accomplished outings. This film doesn’t fail due to any of the talent in front of the camera.

On the other side of the fence we have director James Marsh, also sharing a writing credit with Milo Addica. Addica was responsible for the very well regarded Monster’s Ball, the fuss over which I completely fail to understand, so I suppose fans of that dreary, horrendously unrealistic socio-politik might be able to extract more joy from this largely characterless mess than I was able to.

I can’t for the life of me see how, though. This film just moseys along amiably enough and then ends, without ever looking like it’s going to do anything particularly gripping, even when some fairly radical events occur. To make sense of much of the film you would have to believe in an all-consuming love that Elvis holds for Malerie, but that’s never how it’s played. Without that element it’s a mere tale of petty revenge, but that’s not how it’s played either. Everything seems rather nonchalantly vague, and if they’re not going to care about the story I don’t see why I should.

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