The King (15)

Directed by James Marsh
Written by James Marsh and Milo Addica
Screening at FACT from 30th June - 5th July 2006

Reviewed by Adam Ford

In 1996, documentary maker James Marsh made a film about Elvis Presley, called The Burger & The King. In 2005, he made a drama about a man who happens to be called Elvis, and called it ‘The King’. Symbols that actually symbolise nothing run throughout this latter picture, and spoil what had the makings of a decent piece of entertainment.

Elvis Valderez (Gael Garcia Benal) gets out of the US navy and goes off to Corpus Christi, Texas, where he introduces himself to Pastor David Sandow (William Hurt), the father he has never met. Sandow rejects him out of hand, since he has an all-American suburban family, and doesn’t want to remember his days as a ‘sinner’. But Elvis is determined to become a part of his father’s life, so the Pastor’s supposedly dark past is nothing compared to his future.

Marsh creates a skin-crawlingly tense atmosphere, and the casting is immaculate. Benal continues to establish himself as a very versatile performer, since this role is worlds apart from Che Guevara in The Motorcycle Diaries and his three characters in Bad Education. William Hurt is as brooding as ever, while Pell James as the pastor’s teenage daughter has more than a touch of Sissy Spacek in Carrie about her.

However, for all this moodiness, the plot is empty and superficial. ‘Getting right with Jesus’ (or forgiving oneself for incidents when following one’s energies has led to trouble, before adopting a restrictive moral code as a survival mechanism) has been done on seventy times seven previous occasions, and this adds next to nothing. Addica has written some intriguing stuff before - Monster’s Ball (2001) and Birth (2004) - but much of this script is taken up by meaningless ciphers and meaningless silences. Many filmmakers today are keen to ‘let the audience make up their own mind’, but this is usually a clue that they haven’t got anything to say.

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