Posts Tagged ‘All the King’s Men’

Metro Canada “In Focus”: Penning a list of Sean’s great roles!

Screen Shot 2015-03-17 at 4.59.37 PMBy Richard Crouse – Metro In Focus

Sean Penn is back on the big screen this weekend in The Gunman, his first leading role in almost four years. It can’t rightly be called a comeback because he never really went away. Supporting roles in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and Gangster Squad have generated column inches, but in the last five years he has devoted more energy to raising money for earthquake relief in Haiti than to being a movie star.

In the film he plays Special Forces military contractor Jim Terrier. By day he protects foreign workers in the Democratic Republic of Congo but he moonlights as a hired gunman for big corporations. His assassination of the Congolese Mining Minister forces him to flee the country and changes the course of his entire life.

It’s what Penn jokingly calls “geriaction,” an action movie starring a middle-aged actor. Other than that, don’t expect to hear him speak a great deal about his new film. “Honestly within a week after I’ve finished shooting a film I’ve almost forgotten it,” he said recently.

In February he was honoured with an honorary Cesar Award for “choosing his films with sensitivity and commitment.” At the ceremony the “legend in his lifetime” watched a clip reel spanning the width and breadth of his career, including excerpts from Dead Men Walking, Mystic River and Milk.

Later the actor said, “I remember playing none of those scenes. I remembered the movies [but] I saw myself in scenes with actors I didn’t even know I’d ever worked with!”

To jog Mr. Penn’s memory here’s a “compenndium” of some of his memorable roles:

1. In Milk Penn won a Best Actor Oscar playing the real-life Harvey Milk, a native New Yorker who became America’s first openly gay man to be elected to public office. Penn fully embraces Milk, from the thick New York accent that characterized his speech to the goofy grin that endeared the real-life activist to his supporters, both gay and straight.

2. This Must be the Place is a rare thing. I speak of that elusive beast Pennigma Seanun comoedia—the Sean Penn comedy. He plays a retired and world-weary American rock star living with his wife (Frances McDormand) in Ireland. This is Sean Penn like we’ve never seen him before. With poufy hair, black toenail polish and affected vocal cadence—like Andy Warhol on Quaaludes—he creates an intriguing, strange character.

3. In Hollywood dramedy Hurly Burly Penn played against type as Eddie, the hyperactive casting agent. It’s an emotionally raw performance—witness Eddie try and use cocaine to snort away his troubles—but one without the studied glumness that he frequently brings to the screen.

4. Fair Game could be re-titled One Hundred Minutes of Sean Penn Yelling ‘If We Don’t Tell the Truth No One Will!’ He’s Joseph Wilson the real-life whistleblower who claimed the Bush administration falsified information about the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Penn is passionate, crafting a performance so big it has it’s own gravitational pull.

5. Finally there’s All the King’s Men, a movie memorable for all the wrong reasons. Penn is a fine actor, but as Willie Stark, (loosely based on Louisiana governor Huey P. Long) he is so over-the-top it’s as if he’s acting in a different movie than the rest of the cast. It’s a vein-popping, arm-waving performance that suggests that maybe he should lay-off the Red Bull.


600full-all-the-king's-men-The release of All the King’s Men is the kick-off to awards season. When the weather cools and the leaves start to turn the blockbusters and popcorn movies that clogged up the multiplexes in the summer make way for more serious-minded movies, the kind of movies that win awards.

All the King’s Men is perfect Oscar-bait. It’s based on a Pulitzer Prize winning novel by Robert Penn Warren, which was turned into Oscar’s Best Picture of 1949. The new version features a cast with no less than a dozen Oscar nominations and a few wins between them. That’s quite a pedigree. Too bad the movie doesn’t live up to its legacy.

Sean Penn plays Willie Stark, loosely based on Louisiana governor Huey P. Long. When we meet Willie he is a hick-town county treasurer who risks his job to fight corruption at Town Hall. When he reveals that a construction firm used bribery to land a contract to build a school, a school with a faulty fire escape that collapsed, killing three children, he becomes something of a folk hero. When he is approached to run for governor, he accepts, running on a “man of the people” platform that wins him favor with a large constituency that had never been considered before—rural farmers and landowners. His fiery speeches and populist politics win him the election, but his flamboyant style earns him many enemies in high places. It soon becomes clear that Willie is as corrupt and power hungry as the men he replaced.

The first hint that All the King’s Men is being positioned as an important movie with a capital “I” is the overwrought score by James Horner. This is big, orchestral film music in which violins swell as if heralding the second coming. It seems out of place, considering much of the film takes place in rural Louisiana. Perhaps a score that utilized Cajun and blues music might have been more appropriate. A few accordions, an old washboard and a swampy guitar would have created a sense of place and atmosphere that booming violins cannot.

But the music isn’t the only thing that seems overwrought. Sean Penn is a fine actor, but here he is so over-the-top it is as if he is acting in a different movie than the rest of the cast. He gives us Willie Stark in a vein-popping, arm-waving performance that suggests that maybe he should lay-off the Red Bull.

Next to his eye-popping performance the rest of the cast kind of disappears. Jude Law is serviceable as Stark’s right-hand man; Anthony Hopkins turns in one of his patented old codger performances, but Kate Winslet and Mark Ruffalo are both wasted in small roles that require little from either of them.

It pains me to thrash All the King’s Men because I think it is a movie that aspired to greatness, that tried to have something important to say, and Hollywood could really use more movies that aim high. But in the end All the King’s Men’s lofty aspirations simply make its failure so much more acute.