Making the Grades
Colorful characters make good headlines and nowhere is that more evident than in the political arena. Few Southern officials have been more intriguing than real life governor Huey P. Long on whom the literary character, Willie Stark, is allegedly based.
In this remake of the 1949 film All the King's Men, small town salesman Willie Stark (Sean Penn) is prodded into politics after a school fire leaves three young students dead. Believing he has been chosen from on high to serve the people, this persistent and well-intentioned candidate hits the campaign trail with his press attach0xE9 Sadie Burke (Patricia Clarkson) and his manager Tiny Duffy (James Gandolfini). In route across the state, he discovers his run for election is a sham set up by another party to make him a vote splitter.
From the moment of this recognition, Willie Stark becomes his own man, speaking to the "hicks" of Louisiana about the greed and corruption of the state's "old boy" politicians. Spreading his populist view of government, he speaks out against the avarice of oil and utility companies and fires up the downtrodden poor who rally to put him in office.
However, power and principles make unlikely bedfellows and an air of entitlement that comes with the new position finds Willie misusing alcohol and women for his pleasure. Intimidation and a gun-carrying bodyguard (Jackie Earle Haley) soon replace his idealist rhetoric. And as the constituents clamor to see the evidence of his platform -- promises of new roads, bridges and schools -- the recently elected governor turns to other unconventional and often unlawful methods to get the work done.
His tactics drag others into the scandal as well. Jack Burden (Jude Law) is a tag-along journalist who works for the governor. Jack's childhood friend Anne (Kate Winslet) and her idealist brother Adam (Mark Ruffalo), as well as a father-like judge (Anthony Hopkins) are also caught in the swirling eddy of unethical behavior that surrounds the elected official.
Although this film will have little appeal for most teens, other audience members may find this melodrama long and crammed with moments of unintelligible dialogue, jagged editing and erratic time sequences. Men in power habitually consume cigarettes and liquor as well as women for sexual gratification (some partial nudity is shown). Dishonesty and bribes trigger two suicides and are at the root of a graphic blood-bathed shooting.
Like the politicians it portrays, All the King's Men is a blustery and bloated look at a democratic official who mistook himself for a monarch. Unfortunately, even all this king's intentions and all this king's men can't save this ruler from an untimely fall.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about All the King’s Men.
How does Willie Stark’s choice of liquid refreshment change during the movie? Does that reflect his changing morals?
Is it hard to be the son or daughter of a famous person? Can it be difficult to live up to the achievements of others? What are the advantages of a well-known name?
Jake Burden is assigned to dig up some dirt on Judge Irwin. How does the revelations affect the judge, Jake and others? Do the disclosures negate the good things the judge has accomplished in life?