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The King

June 18th, 2006 (04:44 pm)

current mood: slightly frustrated

© 2006 D. Gordon.

I always enjoy watching Gael García Bernal. Besides the whole biological imperative thing (aka eye candy), I like his performances and I like the roles he takes on. From the first time I saw him in Amores Perros, I've found him sometimes controversial (The Crime of Father Amaro), sometimes on the edge (Bad Education), and always pushing to stretch himself.

I was doubly happy to hear about The King. García Bernal is finally in a US production (indie or not), with William Hurt – which sounds like his career is percolating along quite well. I wasn't quite as happy to read the few reviews I could find, though: they made the movie sound like something from the indie ghetto.

Well, I went to see it. The verdict?

First: kudos for the acting. Gael García Bernal is just as good as ever. This isn't his best role, but he's still very good with the material he's got – as always. Pell James is perfect as the sheltered, virginal daughter in a family that walks with the Lord but isn't completely happy even before Elvis first follows them from the church. According to imdb, she was actually about 27 at the time of the shoot, about eighteen months older than García Bernal – but you'd swear she was 16. However, the movie really belongs to William Hurt as Pastor David Sandow. With the right touch of belief and devotion, he plays a man who believes he's paid for the sin of pride, but doesn't understand the real price of his actions. Sadly enough, Laura Harring doesn't have much to do, mainly because her character is not much more than a cipher. She has to play the hurting mother, and that she phones in; given her performance in Mulholland Drive, it seems a real waste.

Second: there's no denyng that the story is shaky. Elvis's actions become a bit over-the-top and cartoonish towards the end; the same outcome could have been achieved and been much more believable. The movie also didn't seem sure of what it wanted to be: morality tale (pride goeth before a fall)? bizarre story (Norman Bates meets Fatal Attraction, 2006)? American political realities (the rise of religious conservatism)? a twist on the Elvis myth (Don't Be Cruel)? something else? It could have possibly pulled off several of these themes, but this particular story didn't. And lastly, there were several threads hinted at but never followed. Although Paul was obviously more than happy to follow in his father's footsteps, and he was apparently the apple of his father's eye, where did the tension between them come from? How did Twyla resolve / not resolve David's earlier indiscretion? And why didn't they try to resolve their unhappiness together, without "searching for God separately"? And what really happened to Elvis as a child? Not everything needed to be spelled out, but things could have been incorporated a bit more neatly.

Interestingly enough, the first time I saw the movie I was twenty minutes late. I went back and found out who knew what when - which brought the story down several notches. Something as simple as event timing, or explaining event timing (e.g., even if David's explanation / confession to his wife Twyla contained an incorrect factoid that he believed) could have made this a tighter movie.

In the end: good acting, another reason to like Gael Garía Bernal, but an incomplete movie overall.