Co-writer and first-time dramatic feature director, James March, is helmer of the new Gael Garcia Bernal film, THE KING. March has a string of award-winning documentary films to his credit, which demonstrate his insight into the sometimes quirky and dark side of human behavior. THE KING is co-written and produced by Milo Addica whose first screenplay, MONSTERíS BALL, earned him an Academy Award nomination. THE KING boasts exquisite creative talent, with actors William Hurt, Gael Garcia Bernal, Laura Harring, and the young up and comers, Pell James, and Paul Dano. Even with all this creative talent and a many of the right ingredients in the story, THE KING never comes together. It isnít psychologically correct, something for which Iím a stickler.
Handsome Mexican actor, Gael Garcia Bernal, who won awards for several films including Amores Perros, and Y Tu Mama Tombien, plays Elvis, the 21 year-old who has been honorably discharged from the Navy. He sets out to find the man who fathered him, and left his now deceased mother before he was born. He travels to Corpus Christi and finds his father, Pastor Davis Sandow, played by William Hurt, pastor of a large Baptist Congregation. Itís not clear exactly what Elvis hopes for, but Sandow doesnít want anything to do with him, as he would shatter the pastorís image in the community.
Elvis finds a way to get closer to his father: by starting a secret romance with his fatherís teenaged daughter, and his half-sister, Malerie Sandow, played by Pell James. Pell James plays the quietly rebellious pastorís daughter with aplomb, and is a pleasure to watch. In front of her community, she is the church-going Christian, but with Elvis she is a passionate seductress. When Malerieís brother finds out that she has a romance with Elvis, he tracks Elivis down and threatens him. Elvis reacts with brutal violence, leading to more violence, which ultimately ruins his fatherís life.
These characters, especially the pastor and Twyla, the mother, are thin and without the layers that could have made them more compelling. William Hurtís Pastor Sandow is flat and predictable. Twylaís reaction when her son is missing is moving and realistic, but the character is far from memorable. The daughter and sonís characters are more complex and come to life as vibrant and true.
I have reviewed a number of Gael Garcia Bernalís films recently, and I still canít tell if I believe he is a great actor or simply devastating to look at. His Elivis in THE KING doesnít show a hint of what is going on inside of him. Bernalís face doesnít reveal the depth of the character, like Sean Pennís Brad Whitewood Jr. in AT CLOSE RANGE, or Tony Leungís Chow Mo Wan in 2046; there is nothing to hint at the rage that emerges. Just because Elvis shows violence, it is implied that he has a dark mysterious side. But the dialogue or his behavior never betray the well of rage within. I wanted to love THE KING because of the actors and writers, but sadly, there wasnít enough there to draw me in.
For Movie Magazine, this is Joan Widdifield.
© 2006 - Joan K. Widdifield, Psy.D - Air Date: 6/07/06
Gael Garcia Bernal, William Hurt, Pau Dano, Pell James, Laura Harring