U.S. Release Date: September 22, 2006
Distributor: Sony / Columbia
Director: Steven Zaillian
Writer: Steven Zaillian
Producer: Scott Budnick (associate), Ryan Kavanaugh (executive), Todd Phillips (executive)
Composer: James Horner
Cast: Sean Penn, Jude Law, Kate Winslet, James Gandolfini, Mark Ruffalo, Patricia Clarkson, Anthony Hopkins, Jackie Earle Haley
Running Time: 2 hours and 21 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (an intense sequence of violence, sexual content and partial nudity)

Pretentious Political Drama is Overcooked
by Scott Holleran

The overwrought All the King's Men isn't a total loss. Pugnacious Sean Penn's performance as a Louisiana governor enlivens the moral corruption saga about a jaded reporter (Jude Law) and his affiliation with the blustery small town socialist.

The bloated score, disjointed plot and an overdone symbolism sap the juice out of the story, which tracks Penn's rising blowhard—a welfare statist who openly loots Big Business—and Law's squirrelly newspaper reporter, an aristocrat with a secret past that holds the key to the state's future.

All the King's Men, based on a novel and 1949 movie of the same name, is a standard Southern soap opera, pretending to mean much more. In one subplot, there's Law and his childhood crush, played by Kate Winslet, whose brother (Mark Ruffalo) is an artist who may figure into the governor's schemes, which may be desirable because they help the poor—and this trudges on, promising the moon and coming up short like a politician pandering during an election campaign.

In carnivals and towns across the swamplands, Penn's rabble rouser rises, the reporter worms his way toward total corruption and various weasels with names like Tiny and Sugar and Slade crawl in and out of power while the governor's orgy careens toward impeachment proceedings.

It is more of a montage than a movie, filled with a top notch cast—Anthony Hopkins, Patricia Clarkson, Kathy Baker, James Gandolfini and Jackie Earle Haley—who appear in fits and starts and half-scenes and characters that stall along the trail—with a narrative introduced halfway into the movie.

Penn is made for the role the way his ex-wife was made for Evita. The actor's face crinkles and sneers in a portrayal that's perfectly ornery, opinionated, and reeking with sin. But his character starts out as a soda pop-drinking Boy Scout and writer-director Steven Zaillian never really accounts for the transformation. One minute, he's loyal to his wife, the next he is sleeping with every tramp in the state.

All the King's Men overplays the symbolism, running the camera past more crosses and crucifixes than a Madonna concert and capping it with an excessive climax that lasts half as long. It's all in service of a movie that holds that deep down all men are corrupt, a familiar and predictable conviction.

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