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USA/United Kingdom 2005
Directed by
James Marsh
105 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Sharon Hurst
3.5 stars

King, The (2005)

Synopsis: Elvis (Gael Garcia Bernal) is a 21 year old just out of the US Navy. He travels to Corpus Christi in Texas to track down his biological father, Pastor David Sandow (William Hurt). But David, now a fundamentalist Christian preacher, has a new family, Bible-studying Malerie (Pell James), fine upstanding brother Paul (Paul Dano) and wife, Twyla (Laura Harring). As Elvis is again rejected by his father, he insinuates his way into the family’s life with horrendous results.

Elvis is an instantly likeable character. As he drives into town, radio blaring There’ll be Peace in the Valley, things seem idyllic. The green suburban streets, the friendly first meeting with Malerie seem to indicate a sunny story to come. But soon the darkness begins to creep in as Elvis confronts his father, who refuses to acknowledge his past and the relationship with a prostitute which resulted in Elvis’s birth. From there the plot moves inexorably towards its tragic conclusion.

The first feature film by director James Marsh, who co-wrote the screenplay with Milo Addica who also wrote Birth and Monsters Ball, The King maintains a low key mix of dark and light. Resonant close-ups of insects and birds are counterbalanced with threatening scenes of Pastor David hunting deer with bow and arrow, then grisly scenes of skinning the animal. An uplifting scene of Paul entertaining the congregation with his own composition is viciously undercut by his father lambasting for deviating from the word of God. The strength of the film is the way it juxtaposes the two worlds, of David's dogmatic faith in the Lord's love and Elvis's blithe deceptions.  Whilst there is no explanation provided for Elvis's behaviour (perhaps payback for his dead mother?) Marsh powerfully presents us with the pathos of born-again Christianity in the face of reality..

The flawless cast contributes to the film’s integrity. Bernal, seen here in his first English language film, convincingly portrays his paradoxical character while Hurt is outstanding as the fundamentalist zealot . Although both David and Elvis have much in their personalities to despise, the ambivalent emotions they create in the viewer are testament to the power of the acting. In support Pell James and Paul Dano are surprisingly strong for relative newcomers whilst Laura Harring is effective as the increasingly desperate preacher’s wife.




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