Dir: James Marsh. US.2005. 105mins.
Last year Gael GarciaBernal was the face of Cannes, with his contrasting performances in BadEducation and The Motorcycle Diaries. This year, he extends hisrange even further, smouldering with bad boy sex appeal as a prodigal son in TheKing, an English-language Gothic drama set in the American South.
Bernal's presence may be theprincipal selling point of a film that invests a typical bunny boiler scenariowith a more abstract, dream-like quality along the lines of The VirginSuicides. It's not in the same league as Sofia Coppola's admireddirectorial debut but should emerge as a festival fixture and solid specialistrelease.
Co-written and co-producedby Monster's Ball Oscar nominee Milo Addica, The King is verymuch steeped in the Bible stories with strong echoes of the fratricidalconflict of Cain and Abel. Just like in Monster's Ball, the themes ofsin, repentance and forgiveness dominate throughout. In that film they wereallied to a deeply felt human story.
In The King they areso obviously and rigorously pursued that the human story doesn't emerge or gripin quite the same manner. We are not as aware who these people are or how theyhave suffered and are consequently more challenged in trying to make anemotional investment in their fate.
Just 21, Elvis Valderez(Bernal) is honourably discharged from the Navy. He returns to his hometown ofCorpus Christi, Texas determined to confront the father he has never known.David Sandow (Hurt) is now a born again Baptist preacher with a wife, a sonPaul (Dano) and a 16 year-old daughter Malerie (James).
Elvis cannot belong in thebrave new world that he has created for himself. Elvis has other plans. Heseduces Malerie and gradually charms his way into the heart of the family. Heis like the snake who has slithered into their own personal Garden of Eden andhis presence will destroy their innocence and shatter their lives.
Sporting anauthentic-sounding accent, Gael Garcia Bernal makes none of the obvious choicesin delineating the neuroses of his avenging angel figure.
This is no bug-eyed loon orlarger than life psycho but just a determined, very personable sociopath whoknows exactly what he wants to achieve.
Director James Marsh isequally discreet, trying to keep the focus on the personal dilemmas foreveryone involved rather than the violence or bloodshed of the tragedy thatunfolds. Malerie's attraction to Elvis is in some way a reaction to herfather's smothering Christianity but her ignorance of the fact that he is herhalf-brother makes the ultimate revelation of that both horrific and almostcomical.
Marsh has a keen eye for themangy dogs, abandoned toys and tatty motel rooms of the American heartland. Thepiercing sun and burning heat of the locations also heighten the broodingatmosphere, painting the daylight flipside of the dark Gothic spirit in a filmlike Night Of The Hunter.
The King is stylishly madeand convincingly acted but there isn't enough substance to the characters ortheir actions to fully realise all its bright ideas.
Edward R Pressman
Max Avery Lichtenstein
Gael Garcia Bernal