‘The King’ is a Slog Through Shakespearean Henriad History

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CREDIT: Netflix

Starring: Timothée Chalamet, Joel Edgerton, Robert Pattinson, Ben Mendelsohn, Sean Harris, Lily-Rose Depp, Tom Glynn-Carney

Director: David Michôd

Running Time: 133 Minutes

Rating: R for Messy War Combat

Release Date: October 11, 2019 (Limited Theatrically)/November 1, 2019 (Streaming on Netflix)

Once more unto the breach, dear friends? It’s awfully muddy in that breach. That seems to be the big advantage of turning Shakespeare’s Henry IV (Parts 1 and 2!) and Henry V into a movie in 2019: you can make it as muddy as you need it to be! And director David Michôd sure wanted that breach to be muddy. And Falstaff (Joel Edgerton, who co-wrote the script with Michôd) won’t let us forget it. Not that we would have been able to miss it anyway.

I majored in English literature in my undergraduate days, so watching The King is like revisiting old friends for me, but excessively grim versions. I know right from the get-go that wary-of-the-crown Prince Hal will soon enough become King Henry V, Beloved War Hero. But even if I’d never read one verse of Shakespeare, I would have been able to figure that out easily enough. That’s how these narratives tend to play out after all, and also Timothée Chalamet is so hot right now. But that predictability is not necessarily a problem. Shakespeare did not establish his reputation on twisty plots, but rather on wonderfully poetic language. Alas, The King does not have the wit to match. I of course do not demand nor expect that every new Shakespeare adaptation feature iambic pentameter, but if there is going to be as much dialogue as there is in The King, it would be nice if it were at least somewhat exciting. But alas, it seems that war is not only hell, it’s also boring.

As we make our way through the muck into the Battle of Agincourt, The King eventually comes alive somewhat in the form of Robert Pattinson as the Dauphin, the French side’s secret weapon, at least in terms of charisma. He seems to have been warped by the warring status quo between France and England into some sort of almost inhuman, devious little sprite. He is less interested in victory or survival than he is into sucking out the life force of his rivals. I haven’t seen any of those Twilight movies, so for me, this feels like the first time Pattinson has ever played a vampire on screen. If only the other combatants had the verve to match.

The King is Recommended If You Like: Shakespeare minus the poetry

Grade: 2 out of 5 Chainmail Suits

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This Is a Movie: Boy Erased

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CREDIT: Focus Features

I give Boy Erased 4 out of 5 White Dress Shirts: http://newscult.com/movie-review-lucas-hedges-wades-lies-gay-conversion-find-truth-love-unsettling-fulfilling-boy-erased/

This Is a Movie Review: Gringo

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CREDIT: Amazon Studios

I give Gringo 3 out of 5 Gorillas: http://newscult.com/movie-review-gringo-finds-humor-redemption-world-gone-mad/

This Is a Movie Review: Red Sparrow

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CREDIT: Murray Close/Twentieth Century Fox

I give Red Sparrow 3 out of 5 Floppy Disks: http://newscult.com/movie-review-jennifer-lawrence-goes-deep-in-the-graphic-spy-thriller-red-sparrow/

This Is a Movie Review: It Comes at Night

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I give It Comes at Night 4 out of 5 Infections: http://newscult.com/movie-review-comes-night-isnt-just-paranoia-paranoia/

This Is a Movie Review: Loving

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loving-movie-ruth-negga-joel-edgerton

This post was originally published on News Cult in November 2016.

Starring: Joel Edgerton, Ruth Negga, Nick Kroll

Director: Jeff Nichols

Running Time: 123 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Prejudice and the Paranoia That Goes with It

Release Date: November 4, 2016 (Limited)

Director Jeff Nichols is known for including a tinge of the supernatural in his films, especially the apocalyptic Take Shelter and the little-kid-with-mysterious-powers thriller Midnight Special. But even in his ostensibly more realistic pics, like the Southern McConaissance drama Mud, there is a spiritually arousing sense of magic in the air. His latest, Loving, which tells the true-life story behind the 1967 Supreme Court case that struck down the last of this country’s anti-miscegenation laws, achieves that same miraculous sense of wonder by keeping the focus on the day-to-day realities of committed romance under siege.

As Richard (Joel Edgerton) and Mildred (Ruth Negga) Loving’s case makes it way from the local county court to the Virginia Supreme Court all the way to the highest court in the land, there are surprisingly few scenes that actually take place inside a courtroom. The message effectively becomes: love speaks for itself. The film does not see the need for showstopping dramatic speeches, because who needs to be convinced about the rightness of what those speeches would say? Instead, the story mostly sticks with the Lovings’ domestic life, which is constantly under siege, but resolutely tender.

Despite Loving’s lack of interest in legal jargon or courtroom clichés, it does make time for a mini-arc for the titular couple’s main lawyer. When we meet him, Bernard Cohen (Nick Kroll) has little experience with civil rights cases, but he is ambitious enough, or foolhardy enough, to plow right ahead to a potential meeting with the Supreme Court. The casting of Kroll, as much of a novice to high-profile drama as Cohen is to precedent-setting litigation, proves surprisingly apt.

As essential as Kroll’s performance is, it is (like the rest of the movie, and as it should be) all in service to the Lovings. The key line comes when Cohen asks Richard, who has declined to appear during the Supreme Court hearing, if he would like him to tell the justices anything. “Tell the judge I love my wife,” he declares softly but demonstrably.

Edgerton plays Richard as a man who just wants to get on with making a good life for his wife and children. He is uncomfortable with the media attention his marriage receives and flummoxed by the prejudice it engenders. This is in sharp contrast to Negga, who plays Mildred with fragile expressions that belie her steely emotions. Their complementary approaches to overcoming the ordeal of their life are inspiring. It feels like they were destined to be the couple to break down barriers. The poetic perfection of their last name also contributes to that sense. If they were not already called the Lovings, supernaturally inclined Jeff Nichols would have had to christen them thus.

Loving is Recommended If You Like: To Kill a Mockingbird, That feeling you got when the Supreme Court ruled gay marriage constitutional, Actors who look just like the real people they’re portraying

Grade: 4 out of 5 Loves That Conquer All