‘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

This Is a Movie Review: Dunkirk

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This review was originally posted on News Cult in July 2017.

Starring: Fionn Whitehead, Kenneth Branagh, Mark Rylance, Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, James D’Arcy, Tom Glynn-Carney, Jack Lowden, Harry Styles, Aneurin Barnard, Barry Keoghan

Director: Christopher Nolan

Running Time: 106 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for All the Moments That Make You Duck and Cover

Release Date: July 21, 2017

Christopher Nolan has established his reputation as filmmaker by tweaking the genre formulas of noir, superheroes, and mindbenders, inventing new dialects within pre-existing cinematic language. A war movie would not seem like the most obvious next logical step for him, as it would not seem to invite such inventiveness. But Nolan does indeed apply his puzzle-box approach to Dunkirk, and the end result makes perfect sense. The rescue of hundreds of soldiers after a massive military defeat is an attempt to impose order on a fundamentally chaotic situation, and accordingly, what Dunkirk accomplishes is a union of control and constant unease.

Nolan’s method of choice for dramatizing the 1940 World War II evacuation from the titular French beaches is ingenious, but it could have just as easily been a folly in less steady hands. There are three intercut portions: taking place over a week, the boys on the shore waiting to be rescued; taking place over a day, a mariner navigating his fishing vessel across the English Channel to provide support; and taking place over an hour, Air Force pilots clearing the skies to make the rescue easier. The order of events is accordingly difficult to keep track of, and ultimately beside the point. Dunkirk is about the overwhelming experience, as it asks the audience to simultaneously intuit both sustained and short-burst tension.

While the acting is uniformly solid, no single character makes much of an impression, unless you count the music as a character. The dialogue is perpetually difficult to parse: the accents are thicker than your average Brit, the constant dusk and frequent profile shots make it hard to lip read, Tom Hardy wears a mask. But it is Hans Zimmer’s relentlessly thrumming score that gets most in the way. A constant tick-tick-tick is the new BWAHHH. According to Christopher Nolan’s analysis of war, the fight to defend ideals is often cacophonous and rarely allows for relief.

Dunkirk is Recommended If You Like: Saving Private Ryan crossed with Inception, Their Finest

Grade: 4 out of 5 Open-Faced PB&J Sandwiches