All the King's Men (PG-13)
Drama 141 September 22, 2006
The new, James Carville-produced filmization of Robert Penn Warren's 1946 Pulitzer Prize winner returns to the 1930s and the legacy of bullying populist/Louisiana governor Huey Long. Here, the rise of Willie Stark (Sean Penn) from small-time pot-stirrer to party stooge to self-made demagogue to, finally, a people's leader easily given over to the dark side of legislative malfeasance and backroom skulduggery is recounted from the perspective of his cynical, ethically vacant right-hand man, Jack Burden (Jude Law, who seems less fatalistically drunk than just uninterested). Writer-director Steven Zaillian proceeds in typical adapt-a-big-book fashion, condensing, telegraphing, and boiling down drama into info-bytes, amid far too much smoky backlighting and a James Horner score that's so self-important, you want to take out the timpanis with a grenade launcher. It's a naive project politically -- pitching a fit over lost idealism seems thin once you realize that the massive scale of corporate wrongdoing easily overshadows, in cost and blood, any governor's graft habit or blackmail schemes. Penn hardly helps, wrapping his pinched frown around an unintelligible Louisiana drawl and swinging his arms like an autistic evangelist.