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All The King's Men, written in 1946 by Robert Penn Warren, won the Pulitzer Prize. It's a great book that I read as I was moving to Louisiana. All The King's Men was made into a film in 1949, winning Oscars for Best Picture, Best Actor (Broderick Crawford) and Best Supporting Actress (Mercedes McCambridge). Apparently, this wasn't good enough so like every other movie ever made, it is now has a remake which has just been released. The only advantage of the remake is that it was shot on location in Louisiana (the original was shot on the back lot at Columbia Pictures) and in the Louisiana Capitol Building where Huey Long was shot in 1935. Willie Stark, the governor of Louisiana in All The King's Men was patterned closely on Huey Long. The book and movie tell the story of Stark (Sean Penn) who rises from small-town obscurity to governor. The story is seen the through the eyes of a newspaperman, Jack Burden (Jude Law) who becomes Stark's right-hand man. Also in Stark's posse are a political hack (James Gandolfini), his aide and girlfriend (Patricia Clarkson), and his driver and bodyguard (Jackie Earle Haley). Jack's family and friends are well connected to Louisiana politics, including his mother (Kathy Baker), his godfather and a Judge who opposes Stark (Anthony Hopkins), his childhood sweetheart and now also Stark's girlfriend (Kate Winslet), and her brother, the fateful doctor (Mark Ruffalo). Stark gets elected by promising roads, bridges and schools. The real Huey Long established the LSU campus where I work. Both Long and Stark are completely corrupted by power. As you probably know if you have read the book or seen the first film, the characters of All The King's Men start off well but quickly get into a classic death spiral that leaves several people dead and the rest destroyed by the end of the movie.
There were some things I liked about All The King's Men. It looks good and it was nice to see the re-creation of Louisiana in the 40's. Maybe the fact that James Carville, from Carville LA, is an executive producer on the film helped. No one could come up with an imagined State Capitol more weird and interesting that the real one in Baton Rouge, so it makes a nice backdrop to the action. Sean Penn and Jude Law are both very good. Sean seems to be channeling Huey Long or at least what I think Long was like. Penn has an amazing almost unintelligible accent which I liked. The accents in the film are a bit of a problem since Law, Winslet and Hopkins are English. Their accents don't match up very well, but then neither do the accents of the American actors. Clarkson is actually from New Orleans. Her mother was on the city council until losing in the last election. Besides Penn, Law does the best with his part. He seems totally at ease with this role and has just the right languid manner. Gandolfini (The Sopranos) still sounds like he's from New Jersey, which isn't half bad because that's actually close to a New Orleans accent. Hopkins doesn't bother to sound southern at all. Watch for Eileen Ryan, mother of Sean Penn, as the old woman with the damning letter. And that was Nicole Bobek, former US Figure Skating Champion, doing the erotic routine on ice for Willie Stark. I had a hell of a time remembering where I saw the guy who played Stark's driver and bodyguard before. That's because I think I last saw Jackie Earle Haley as Moocher in Breaking Away in 1979. But all in all the cast of All The King's Men is great, although Winslet and Ruffalo are pretty much wasted.This brings me to my biggest beef with the movie. All the King's Men was directed and adapted by Steven Zaillian. He's done some good screenplays (Searching for Bobby Fischer, Schindler's List) but he seems to have got lost here. There's lots of important stuff missing from the movie. I don't know if a lot of scenes went onto the cutting room floor, but this film was delayed for almost a year while they tinkered with it. This led to some bad buzz and the reviews have been tepid. The problem is that the key to what happens at the end of the movie, which isn't giving anything away, is the relationship between Burden (Law) and his childhood friends who, because of him, get drawn into Stark's web. Winslet, who plays the love of Burden's life, becomes Stark's lover and this leads her brother, played by Ruffalo, to try and kill Stark. But almost all of this happens off screen. There are no scenes with Winslet and Stark (Penn), and almost none with Law and Winslet and Ruffalo. We find out almost as an afterthought that Winslet and Stark are involved, and there are with very few scenes involving Ruffalo. So when we reach the climax of the movie, it sort of comes out of the blue because all of the action concentrates on politics and the attempts of the Louisiana legislature to impeach Stark. So what is supposed to be a kind of love quadrangle with Penn, Law, Winslet and Ruffalo doesn't really happen. The relationship that really works in the movie is that between Penn and Law, and that's worth seeing; that and the lovely backgrounds of the great state of Louisiana.