September 20, 2006


All the King's Men: Sean Penn can't pull his weight in treatment of American classic. (Michael Atkinson, 9/20/06, Seattle Weekly)

Let loose with what is remembered as a large, meaty, all-American role within a properly Pulitzered and still school- assigned mega-fiction (filmed already in 1949 and showered with forgotten Oscars), Sean Penn goes for larger than life, wrapping his pinched frown around an unintelligible Louisiana drawl and swinging his arms like an autistic evangelist. (Maybe it's the hick-Eraserhead hair, encouraging us to place this cracker politician somewhere between his special-kid in I Am Sam and his obliviously narcissistic guitarist in Sweet and Lowdown.)

Characterwise, Penn is most effective at boiling pots with tight lids—he's an internal combustion engine. A small man, he even tries to evoke the working-class blubber of the original version's star, Broderick Crawford (and the character's model, Huey Long), pushing out his belly and swaggering like he's got 100 more pounds to heave around than he actually has. It's a florid, vein-popping spectacle, trying too hard and, in the end, seeming to know little under the skin about dirt-poor Americans. [...]

[Steven] Zaillian proceeds in typical adapt-a-big-book fashion, condensing, telegraphing, and boiling down drama into info-bytes.

Which raises the question once again: why remake classics when you could instead take a fresh stab at the bombs and misses? We don't need a new All the King's Men, but someone should do Tai-pan at least competently.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 20, 2006 12:00 AM

Ooh! Ooh! (Waves hand furiously) How about a remake of "Plan 9 from Outer Space"? To do worse than something like is a challenge that requires a talent as great as Sean Penn's.

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at September 20, 2006 10:49 AM

My father encouraged me to watch the original on a late Saturday movie when I was 13 or 14. Still one of the best dramas I've ever seen.

Posted by: Mike Morley at September 20, 2006 1:47 PM

The movie is good, but I really thought the book was great. Haven't read it in a while, though. Sean Penn as Willie Stark is very hard to picture.

Posted by: jdkelly at September 20, 2006 6:34 PM

I have to say, I read the book for the first time maybe ten years ago. Not sure how it escaped my attention for that long.

As soon as I read it I went and rented the movie, excited to see it b/c of the academy awards etc.

Frankly, next to the book I thought it, excuse my French, sucked. I mean, I'd probably think it was good if it was an original screenplay, but I my impression was that they grossly oversimplified the novel. Not a surprise since that's what Hollywood always does, and the result is so often awful. A recent example is the travesty that was Graham Greene's End of the Affair, where the completely changed the meaning of the story.

I was hoping the new one would do better, but apparently it's far far worse.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at September 20, 2006 8:21 PM

Read the book first, too. Agree about the movie, but did like Broderick Crawford. Maybe too much "Highway Patrol" as a kid.

Posted by: jdkelly at September 20, 2006 9:42 PM