The King Review

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A former ladies man turned Texan pastor is caught in a difficult position when his illegitimite son turns up, seeking his father after a spell in the navy.


In his 2001 Oscar-nominated screenwriting debut, Monster’s Ball, Milo Addica pulled off the impressive trick of creating a convincing romantic relationship between a pair of utterly mismatched people, a white, racist Death Row prison guard and the black wife of the man whose execution he oversaw (roles played with an appropriate and admirable lack of sentimentality by Billy Bob Thornton and Halle Berry). He then did likewise with his second film, Birth, which reunited Nicole Kidman’s grieving wife with her dead husband, reincarnated in the body of a child. And he does something similar with this third film. This time, however, the apparently impossible relationship is between a father and son.

In The King, illegitimate son Elvis Valderez (Mexican heartthrob Gael García Bernal, making his English language debut as a leading man) is honourably discharged from the Navy. He decides to track down his father (William Hurt), who’s given up on the whoring that produced Elvis to become a born-again Christian and lead a respectable life with a family and public position as pastor in a small community in Corpus Christi, Texas. His son’s arrival is therefore less the return of the prodigal and more a threat to the life he has so carefully built.

That volatile scenario allows Addica and his co-writer, the film’s British director James Marsh (whose previous credits, The Burger & The King: The Life & Cuisine Of Elvis Presley and Wisconsin Death Trip, would suggest he’s the perfect man for this job), to explore that hoary old biblical notion of the sins of the father being passed onto the children. It’s an explosive drama, but Marsh and his excellent cast (including an alluring Pell James) wisely avoid any melodramatics, which makes this provocative film all the more powerful.

Complex and powerful, the performances are uniformly excellent.