The King
R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E dir James Marsh
scr Milo Addica, James Marsh
with Gael García Bernal, William Hurt, Pell James, Paul Dano, Laura Harring, Milo Addica, Mohammad Ahmed, Derek Alvarado, Laura Clifton, Jessica Schwartz, Spencer Gibb, E Matthew Buckley
release UK 19.May.06
05/US Content 1h45

In the Navy: Bernal

bernal hurt harring

London Film Fest

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The King There's an unnerving tone to this film that constantly threats to boil over into something deeply horrific. Marsh takes a clever approach to a controversial idea, but he never makes it terribly engaging.

Elvis (Bernal) is a young guy just out of the Navy who heads straight for Corpus Christi, Texas, to find his long-lost father David (Hurt), the pastor of a friendly fundamentalist congregation. Naturally, David's worried about his reputation, and doesn't want his wife (Harring) or teen kids (James and Dano) exposed to the result of his past sins. So Elvis worms his way into the family in other ways. And things get very creepy.

Marsh paints a bracingly authentic picture of conservative America, with its desperate need for everything to be orderly. Script, direction and performances keep the characters' feet on the ground; yes, they're goody-goodies, but they're not self-righteous about it. These are upstanding people who have locked away all thoughts of anything remotely shady. So Elvis' presence represents a real danger.

Hurt immerses himself in David, a man trying to do the right thing by everyone, even though he knows he's made--and he's making--some bad decisions. James is wonderfully inquisitive, indulging in things she knows she shouldn't be even thinking about. Dano's superbly upstanding young man and Harring's steely mom add subtext. And Bernal revisits his charismatic but subtly sinister stalker from Bad Education, but with a very different layer of moral complexity. It's like he's in denial just as much as the family.

There are overtones American Beauty and A History of Violence, as Marsh and Addica slice through the veneer of a "wholesome" society. The cliches are here (preacher's daughter falls for bad boy, anyone?), but they're played out with black twists and surprising inventiveness. This is subtle, inventive filmmaking that's only weakened by a subdued, slightly unfocussed narrative style and an underlying bleakness that keeps us from warming to anyone. We can guess where it's going, and we don't really want to follow. Still, it's a haunting film that really gets under our skin.

cert 15 strong themes, language, sexuality, violence 6.Oct.05 lff

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© 2005 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall