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The King

Gael García Bernal stars in this intriguing 2005 psychological drama as Elvis, a U.S. Navy corpsman who, upon his discharge from the service, first visits the nearest whorehouse, and then the nearest used car lot, and heads out to Corpus Christi, Texas, to meet the father he never knew. David Sandow (William Hurt), who fathered Elvis with a prostitute, has since put his sinning days behind him and, by the time Elvis finds him, is a family man and a minister at a conservative church. When David firmly asserts to Elvis — whose mother has passed on — that there is no room for another member of the family, Elvis begins to unravel the the already fragile Sandow clan by tugging at its loosest thread: teenage daughter Malerie (Pell James). Elvis easily seduces the innocent girl, who feels neglected by her father's clear preference for his college-bound son Paul (Paul Dano), starting a slow-burning chain of events that can only end badly for all. Directed by James Marsh, who co-wrote with Monster's Ball scribe Milo Addica, The King is quiet and coy, and full of nice portrayals of characters whose emotions are always more complicated than they can manage. However, while the performances are complex, the script is also full of easy clichés — particularly in its stock depiction of a hard-ass preacher with a closet full of skeletons whose virginal daughter drops her knickers for the first dangerous creep to ask. This kind of uninspired framework makes Elvis's predatory plan (or instincts?) too easy to execute, and may lead demanding viewers to wonder how much more compelling and powerful the movie could have been with stronger resistance to Elvis's destructive influence. All the same, The King carefully avoids knee-jerk degradation of its religious characters, who appear sincere if deeply flawed, despite its authors' overloaded stereotypes in an apparent attempt to create false moral equivalence and artificially dampen sympathy for their naive victimization by a sociopath. As part of The King's purposeful avoidance of clear resolution, the film is also packed with muddy motivations, some of which effectively evoke the characters' dim self-awareness, but others miss the mark. Director Marsh likewise fails to make the most of some long-anticipated revelations, so while the film is overall satisfying in its little way, its hints at something better are a disappointment. Bernal is good, and Dano is very strong in a role that could have easily degenerated into dumb mockery. Pell is terrific, even though Marsh stumbles in realizing her most important scene. Also with Laura Harring, as Hurt's quiet wife. Lionsgate/ThinkFilm presents The King on DVD in a good anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Features include a commentary by Addica and Marsh, plus a six-minute reel of deleted scenes and rehearsal clip featuring Bernal. Trailer, keep-case.
—Gregory P. Dorr

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