All the King's Men (12A)

You're a lame duck, governor
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The Independent Culture

All The King's Men is a film with a specific audience in mind, and that audience consists entirely of Academy Award voters. It's got a bombastic score and bucketloads of symbolism and period detail; it's based on a Pulitzer-winning novel; and the cast is like a middlebrow Ocean's Eleven: Sean Penn, Jude Law, Kate Winslet, Anthony Hopkins, James Gandolfini, Patricia Clarkson and Mark Ruffalo all get their barnstorming Oscar-clip speeches. If only All The King's Men were any good, it might have swept the boards at prize-giving time.

Like the 1949 version, which did indeed take home an armful of Oscars, it features a meek Louisiana salesman (Penn) who proves that power corrupts when he's elected as state governor. But in Steven Zaillian's film, the governor - an inflammatory demagogue, even though it's impossible to make out half of what he says - is suddenly demoted to a minor character, and the spotlight falls on Law, an ex-reporter who's become Penn's flunky. This jarring switch is just one sign of a bungled editing job which cuts out all the most crucial parts of the story.

Even the governor's transformation from incorruptible family man to lecherous monster happens as abruptly as if a passing witch had waved a wand and turned him into a frog. The film is like a jigsaw with half the pieces missing. Presumably, a less confusing, three-hour long cut is already being planned, so you should vote with your feet until then.

n.barber@independent.co.uk

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