Friday, September 22, 2006

If Sean Penn Hadn't Decided To Save Katrina Refugees By Piling Them All Into His Dinky Rowboat, I Would Vote For Him in a Lousiana Gubernatorial Race.

2.5 stars.
Oscar bait is a funny thing. At some point in the movie-making process, between the time when the idea of the movie is conceived and when it's actually released in theaters, someone decides that the material they're dealing with deserves recognition. It's a very presumptious action - the movie hasn't even been seen by anyone unconnected to the production. Often though, they get it right. They have a great idea, a great script, a great cast, and every element clicks and they release it in the late fall and get their accolades. However, sometimes it doesn't work out. Maybe what seemed to click on paper didn't click on film. Maybe the heralded actor didn't bring it this time. Whatever the reason, every year, you have a movie that screams, "I want an Oscar!" and it doesn't get it. Maybe it gets a nomination or two, but it's not the colossal Academy Award juggarnaut it thought it was.

Such is the case with "All the King's Men." They had an idea - remake a movie that won Best Picture over 50 years ago. It's material that has proven to be successful once before, so why not go for it again? The problem was that they got greedy. They were handed an award-winning concept on a silver platter, and they suddenly found themselves with a plethora of proven, capable actors and lost their way.

I have never seen the original movie or read the book. I'm sure they're both very good. The only thing that I had some idea about going into this movie was that it was based on the life of Huey Long, the corrupt Louisiana governor from earlier in the last century. Idealistic populists who slowly but surely sink into the pits of political corruption are fascinating characters, and the fictionalized version of Long in the guise of Willy Stark is no exception.

Why doesn't the movie want to focus on me?

I heart Sean Penn. I think he just secured himself another nomination and possible win with this. The only review I've read of this was a scathing, nasty critique by the New York Post, but I have no doubt that they won't be the last publication to claim Penn was "hamming it." Bull. It's an absolutely unfair dig to make, especially since the entire character is over the top and practically combusting with energy - hell, it's the qualities that get the guy elected in the first place. I have a not-so-sneaking suspicion that Sean Penn is a LOT like Willy Stark when he gets his own personally molded pulpit to preach from, but so what? Even in scenes where Stark is quietly fuming at the world, glaring at potential detracters and becoming increasingly eccentric and paranoid, it's the same energy he's delivering the stump speeches with all over again. However, Sean Penn is the only good thing in this movie. There really is nothing else to go see this for. The fatal flaw in this movie (and I could probably point to several) is that they decided to tell this story from the point of view of Jude Law's character, a wholly unimpressive beat reporter with a one-dimensional personality.

Tell me about it.

As an aside, and I know this is the definition of beating a dead horse, but when did everyone decide Jude Law was a legitimate actor? He's the male version of Jessica Alba, but for some reason, everyone wants to pretend that he's not or that he'll somehow develop an as-yet unseen acting ability if you keep giving him juicy parts. No. That's not how this works. If you had cast Jessica Alba as the lead in Titanic, the ship would have gone down days before it went near an iceberg. There isn't an ounce of talent in that girl, but the differentiator is that EVERYONE KNOWS THAT. She's not cast in movies because she's going to strengthen the acting - she's eye candy and nothing more, and I can't imagine that even she doesn't know that. And because of that universal knowledge, she gets handed roles in shit movies that don't rely on acting to make money, i.e., Sin City or Fantastic Four. In this way, Jessica Alba's inability to pretend to be someone not named Jessica Alba doesn't even have the CHANCE of infecting a potential Oscar-caliber movie. Not so with Jude, and that's what makes him so dangerous.

Insert joke about the dog being the better actor.

Jude Law's character gets entangled with Willie Stark while he's covering the story of his political ascent for the local newspaper. Through his eyes, we watch Stark rise from a complete unknown in a small town to a corrupt governor on the take. There is absolutely no need whatsoever to have Jude Law's character in this movie. None. You don't need him to tell this story. Stark's sheer presence automatically eliminates the need to have his rise and fall dictated by another character that's not as strong. To make matters worse, there's a ridiculous, needless subplot with Kate Winslet. Now, I love Kate. I can't think of anyone with a better fake American accent on the planet besides Hugh Laurie. But this is (or at least SHOULD) be a story about Willy Stark, not some ridiculous love interest that Jude Law had years before that does nothing but divert attention away from the plot at hand.

Eat your heart out, Jessica Alba.

Anthony Hopkins also made his way into this movie. The entire production is teaming with British actors playing Southerners. Unlike Kate and Jude, who has a sucky American accent but at least puts forth some semblance of effort, Hopkins apparently decided that he's such a Welsh badass that he doesn't even NEED the Southern accent. I suppose in the long run, accents in a movie aren't as important as the other elements, but come ON. You're playing the former governor of Louisiana. He doesn't have an English accent, regardless of whether you live in a stately mansion along the bayou.

I'm too important of an actor to ACT.

The only other character besides Willy Stark that was mildly interesting was Mark Ruffalo's character, the son of the former governor who's brought into some pseudo, for-the-public-good hospital operation so that Willy Stark can be associated with his famous father. It would have been yet another pointless extension of an already long movie, but at least with this guy, you can see a) a direct contrast to what Willy has become and that idealism that he left behind and b) an actual, personal victim of what Stark inflicts on the state. Do they follow up on that? Not really. He's barely in the movie, submerged by the needlessness that is Jude Law and a slew of actors who didn't need to be in this.

The bottom line is that this movie suffers when it doesn't have Sean Penn. Because of the infinite number of subplots that have no real bearing on his character, the audience doesn't get a real sense of HOW Willy Stark morphed into the cynical, influential bureaucrat. We see a few scenes of him as the idealistic, naive country hick who's taken advantage of by more experienced politicos, but then it just shoots ahead a few years and doesn't show us what happened. One suspects that Stark actually tried to accomplish something positive and noble when he first came into office, but we never see that. We never see what happens when Stark's first efforts as governor are stifled and he has to turn to nefarious schemes to get what he wants accomplished - we just hear second-person accounts by Jude Law, who almost literally was taking a fork and knife, cutting the scenery into little pieces and chewing on it. The world would benefit greatly if they ignored everything in this movie except what it should have been about.


At 1:35 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Emma,
Long-time reader, first time commentor. Actually I think I commented once or twice before. Whatever. Anyway, I have two things to say:

1. Sin City was not crap, it fucking rocked if only for it's incredibly unique and artistic style (I personally thought it was a bit violent and threw up in my mouth a little when he ripped that guys genitals off).

2. I have to second the motion that Jessica Alba is effing hot. As a heterosexual female, I have never noticed or cared to notice the level of her acting ability. I've decided that when I die I want my obituary to be paired with a photo of Jessica Alba to make people care more.

Okay, that is all.

Kindest Regards,

At 7:26 AM, Blogger e.e.grimshaw said...

Dear Chloe,
It's a pleasure to hear from you in a non-epistolary medium for a change. I would like to take this moment to clarify a few things in my post that have led to a false impression. I LOVE Sin City. I think it's a fantastic movie. Rosario Dawson should have been nominated for Best Supporting Actress for it. It was misleading of me to group Sin City and Fantastic Four together, I admit that. My point was that Sin City is so badass that it doesn't NEED good acting to get by, and Jessica Alba clearly demonstrates that, as do Bruce Willis and Michael Madsen. It was a pleasure to hear from you.

At 12:09 PM, Blogger Fishhead said...

Ordinarily I would make some effort to defend Jude Law here, mention Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, Enemy at the Gates, The Talented Mr. Ripley, etc. However, last weekend HBO Zone and I attempted "Sky Captain and the World of Crap," and it proved, in under fifteen minutes, to be as horrible as one would imagine Gwyneth, Angelina, and Jessica Alba multiplied against one another to be. So I'm offering this hypothesis instead: Jude split from Sadie around 2003/2004, which was about the same time his career went from "that british actor" to "that douchy clown," in the end making him, without a member of the Moss Posse by his side, just another wimp who doesn't know how to manage his career.


At 8:19 PM, Blogger e.e.grimshaw said...

every single movie you mentioned to support jude law's acting ability has other actors in them who are infinitely more talented. enemy at the gates has joe fiennes and bob 'sexiest nose in the history of the world' hoskins in it. midnight in the garden of good and evil has kevin spacey in it. the talented mr ripley has matt damon and philip seymour hoffman in it. if you can find me a movie where he adequately represents with a cast of ineptitude parapalegics dot dot dot

At 8:54 AM, Blogger Fishhead said...

the wisdom of crocodiles. no celebrites, and jude is legitimately creepy. that said, it's easier to play the creepy guy than just about any other character, save the screaming murder victim, but it is a chilling portrayal nonetheless.

and jude was indeed flanked by every known celebrity in the talented mr. ripley, but he was brilliant in that movie.

At 10:20 AM, Blogger e.e.grimshaw said...

the talented mr ripley is just as misleading a title as everybody loves raymond. that movie is mindnumbingly boring, and an award should have been given to anyone (i suppose just you) who managed to sit through the entire thing without waking up during the credits with spittle dangling from their face.

At 6:29 AM, Blogger Fishhead said...

i may have zonked out ten to fifteen minutes following jude's boat death, but i didn't miss a second of him on screen. as for the next two hours, my mother offered numerous complaints in reference to damon's multiple close ups, and the mole population conscious members of the audience were made privy to.


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