Monday, 20 November 2006

The King (2005)

This review was originally posted on Ian's Personal Blog on 24th September 2006.

The KingThe King, released on DVD tomorrow, is a tale of revenge and retribution starring William Hurt as a born-again preacher who's found contentment and is 'The King' of his castle, and Mexican heart-throb Gael Garcia Bernal as his returning prodigal, but unknown, son. Bernal was last seen in The Motorcycle Diaries, but he plays a very different role here.

Hurt's character, David Sandow, had a shady past before he discovered religion and a new wife and family, and that past comes back to haunt him in the form of his son, Elvis, who comes to live in his town after leaving the Navy. On learning of the existence of the son he never knew he had, Sandow's first reaction is to dismiss the reminder of his previous life and warn his family not to have anything to do with the stranger who shows up outside his house one day. But Elvis has other plans, and uses his good looks and charm to seduce Sandow's daughter, his own sister, in what turns out to be only the start of what the sleeve notes rightly describe as 'an explosion of violence and tragedy of Biblical proportions'.

The film is very much carried by Bernal's mesmerising performance, with the actor here looking very much like a teenage version of Viggo Mortensen's character in A History of Violence. It's a gripping feature, carried along by the fact that you're never really quite sure where it's going or what's going to happen next. But if you like endings that are wrapped up in a nice little bow, or explain what has happened in the previous 90 minutes for you, this isn't it, with the film ending suddenly and devastatingly so that you find yourself replaying the film in your mind over the closing credits, trying to work out what it was you just saw.

Co-writer and director James Marsh has previously made documentaries and this is his first feature film. I thought this showed, with great long scenes of rather shaky, hand-held camera work suddenly cropping up for no apparent reason. It felt a very 'choppy' film, albeit one that keeps you interested throughout because you're constantly trying to work out what's going to happen next. Marsh's accomplice on the script, Milo Addica, is best known for Monster's Ball and Birth which raised some uncomfortable questions, and this new film is no different. It's a thought-provoking film, if ultimately a frustrating one, because one never really understands the reasons behind Elvis' actions and what it is that makes him tick.

The King screencap

The transfer, in anamorphic widescreen, appears variable, presumably down to the constantly changing quality of the original film material. In general the film colours are heavily over-saturated, which I found very artificial and somewhat distracting, and there are some scenes, including the opening one, where there is so much digital noise, one starts the film assuming it's a really poor transfer. Things thankfully improve as soon as we move to some outdoor scenes. Whether this continual change in quality is deliberate, to present some sort of subliminal message, I couldn't work out!

There's a choice of Dolby or DTS sound-track and the sound is clear, with some excellent music that doesn't distract from the picture and is used very sparingly.

Tartan have done the release proud in terms of finding some extra's for what was a low-budget film. There's a 4-page booklet of sleeve notes and chapter index, a commentary from the writer/director and producer, deleted scenes, a blurry, soft, non-anamorphic trailer, a rehearsal scene and a couple of anamorphic widescreen 15 minute interviews with the two writers.

The commentary is rather dull, and doesn't really reveal much. The interviews are better, giving some insight into what the writers were trying to convey in this rather strange piece. The rehearsal scene is mildly interesting, only for proving initial observations that Gael Garcia Bernal can make himself look 10 years older by growing his hair longer and not shaving. He looks significantly younger in the main feature than he does in the rehearsal or in his previous outing The Motorcycle Diaries. The three deleted scenes don't really add anything, but give a little more insight into a couple of existing scenes that did make the final cut.

The King screencap

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