The Southern Accent Accident

A roll call of winners can be found in the recent film version of “All the King’s Men” and by the end of the movie, they roll out like a bunch of losers. I really anticipated this movie after watching the 1949 film, but expectations grew bloody dim when critics bashed it. I wondered how it could ever be messed up considering the talents involved; only to find that it was the talents involved that messed it up.

Ineptly adapted from a Pulitzer winning novel, “All the King’s Men” focuses on Louisiana politician Willie Stark (Sean Penn), who campaigns for state governor as a man of the common people and wins. Once elected, Stark becomes corrupt, assuming that his new position gives him the ex cathedra privilege to play with lives and reputations. By the sidelines, a nonchalant reporter (Jude Law) watches the spectacle, only to be suckered in when he participates in Stark’s overall schemes.

What bothered me in this movie are the fake Southern accents all over the place. I guess it’s not surprising, bearing in mind that some prominent roles belong to British actors. In my opinion, the worst offender of them all is Jude Law, since he narrates and appears in pretty much every scene. I like the actor but he seems so affected in his performance here. He’s mighty convincing alright. He’s convincing as an English bloke trying to pass for a Southern reporter. (If the movie is so willing to butcher accents in exchange for marquee-worthy stars, I think it would have been a hoot if Ah-nold Schwarzenegger is cast in the gah-vah-nah role. That might even be a better movie).

Another erroneous casting is Sean Penn in the lead role. Again, a great actor but wrong for the part, especially if he’s compared to Crawford’s Oscar winning performance in the 1949 film. His Willie Stark looks suspiciously evil from the start. Penn has already established him as a villain. To me, what’s engrossing in the ’49 film is that Willie Stark actually starts out as an underdog, someone to root for. He entered politics with good-hearted intentions. The 2006 film rushed this through and is more interested in the duplicity and power plays Stark takes part in. I feel the rest of the cast are wasted, especially Patricia Clarkson in the Sadie Burke role. I didn’t like it that they toned down the role. If you’ve seen the original film, you’d know what I mean.

Watching the film though, I think the plot magically survives despite merely adequate players. The screenplay fails to establish the characters but it knows how to screw on the twists. It’s still fascinating to me how the reporter is such a seriously laid-back guy, being so masculine by putting his emotions at bay. But what does he stand for? He almost didn’t need to be in the story. A character in his position could’ve been integral to how things progressed, but he chose to watch and observe. I guess that’s the thing about anticipating a disaster – it’s hard to look away. No wonder I was glued to the screen while I watched this stunning disaster of a movie.

Grade: C

Sean Penn, Jude Law, Anthony Hopkins, Kate Winslet, Mark Ruffalo, Patricia Clarkson, James Gandolfini, and Jackie Earle Haley
Based on the novel by
Robert Penn Warren
Screenplay by
Steven Zaillian
Directed by
Steven Zaillian
Rated PG-13 for an intense sequence of violence, sexual content and partial nudity