THE KING is Almost Great, Managing to be Good Instead

You know what? Timothée Chalamet is a weirdly precise actor with a specific acting style that I enjoy. Looking forward to him in Dune next year. Anyways…

So The King is a film by this Australian guy named David Michôd, known for feature-length films The Rover (pretty decent movie) and War Machine (pretty regrettable movie). This time he’s been given the reins of a 2+ hour epic covering the early days of an England ruled by King Henry the V. This takes from a few sources based in William Shakespeare’s plays, pulling different parts and characters to craft a modern-looking, slick-looking film that the production crew proceeded to douse in shadows and mud to great effect. Michôd got a damn good cast as well, pulling in the talents of Ben Mendelsohn, Robert Pattinson, Sean Harris, Lily-Rose Depp, and Joel Edgerton. One of these performances is perfect, the rest range from acceptable to pretty damn good, and I’m not going to tell you which was my favorite yet. No, for that we’ve got to get through this whole plot thing.

So at the beginning, Hal (Timothée Chalamet) is hiding from his father, King Henry IV (Ben Mendelsohn), in a mud hovel with his best bro John Falstaff (Joel Edgerton) while they both soak in booze and women. He’s about to become king, though, and when he does a world of political intrigue and war swallows him whole in its clutches as he struggles to unite a kingdom under one peaceful reign. Still with me? Good.

So right off the bat I got a bit scared. The film seems lit by natural light and that makes some of the darker scenes a bit difficult to see, particularly on a streaming service when this was designed for theatrical release. The outside scenes are gruesome, basically all reserved for moments of battle that try to accurately portray what that era looked like. We’ve seen some cool sword fights in film before but this is different, aiming for realism by having the fighters lose their bigger weapons and wind up beating on each others’ armor while clawing for their daggers to stick each other in the neck. There’s a lot of shiny, metal men wailing on one another and it’s so much fun to watch something like that. Indoor scenes, however, suffer by being lit solely by firelight and candlelight and we’re forced to rely heavily on dialogue in moments to understand what’s happening. The juxtaposition between them is jarring but in some ways it works. It’ll depend on your setting because this is not a film to watch in a well-lit room, you’ll want total darkness so those night/indoor scenes have room to pop. 

That contrast between light and dark is crucial, seeing how this is a film about light and dark characters and the light and darkness within us all. Henry, or Hal, is not always a good person. He’s rash and driven, prone to making mistakes in his anger at his worst and lashing out at his friends at his best. No one is trustworthy and we’re meant to see the blatancy of the manipulations all around him, trying to determine for ourselves what his choices really should be. That’s the point of the film – why do we make the decisions we do?

Okay so now that I’ve talked about visuals and thematics it’s time to talk about the coolest part of this movie – Robert Pattinson. He’s playing The Dauphin, crown prince of France, and he’s so charming and delightful in every instant of his onscreen performance. He’s sporting that vampire-pale skin that made him famous, long blonde hair, and a weirdly high-pitched French accent while discussing how little Henry V’s dick is in contrast to what he believes must be a big ol’ pair of meaty clackers. It’s just a fun role and serves to once again remind us how talented of an actor he really is because the guy had the deck stacked against him after Twilight, managing to grow into one of our finest modern performers. Those of you still on the fence about him being the new Batman need to get on board, you’ll be happier. 

End of the day, The King is an above-average historical drama that doesn’t manage to be as epic as it wants to be. It does, however, sport a cocktail of beautiful daylight imagery and a set of performances that are all wonderful to behold. With such a run time I just wanted more out of it, but I don’t feel as though I’ve wasted any of my time and for those with the patience (or curiosity) it’ll be worth yours as well. An interesting look at a much-dramatized period of history, it’s an incredibly difficult film that managed to sell me on its own merits.

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