starring Sean Penn, Jude Law, Kate Winslet, James Gandolfini
screenplay by Steven Zaillian, based on the novel by Robert Penn Warren
directed by Steven Zaillian
by Walter Chaw SPOILER WARNING IN EFFECT. Ask most wags and they'll tell you that Sean Penn is the best actor of his generation; for a performance or two (consider that in Dead Man Walking, he goes the distance without the use of his hands), I'd be inclined to agree, but look at the way writer-director Steven Zaillian and, especially, composer James Horner, treat Penn in the long-delayed All the King's Men--and marvel at how little they think of their leading man. The second adaptation of Robert Penn Warren's 1946 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about a populist-leaning stump-thumper modeled after Huey Long, the film garnered attention first for its sterling cast and Tiffany pedigree, then for its sudden disappearance from last year's Oscar slate, only to appear now, without fanfare (save a gala screening at last week's TIFF), in the middle of what's traditionally a dumping ground for dead weight. And every time Penn delivers an allegedly rousing speech to a gaggle of hicks, proposing to nail the entrenched fat cats in the Big Easy's beleaguered senate to a rail, Horner's tiresome score endeavours to drown him out in a flood of sugared plastic emotion. Still, at least this sloppy brass orgy has a pulse, as opposed to Horner's "mournful theme," i.e., the one that accompanies the retarded voiceover narration of journalist Jack Burden (Jude Law), which sounds a lot like the piano exit music from the old "Incredible Hulk" TV show. If you believe your actors are capable of conveying emotion and nuance, you don't shoot them in sexy angles and luxury car commercial colour schemes while trying to drown them out in spasmodic torrents of empty, manipulative noise.