A classic saga of power, corruption and politics returns to the screen in a star-filled adaptation of a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Robert Penn Warren. Alan Silverman has a look at All the King's Men.
Idealistic politician Willie Stark presents himself as a 'man of the people' ... 'a hick, just like you' ... as he stumps for votes across Louisiana. The time is the post-war 1940's, but then, as now, there are powerful special interests working in the wings to put a man in office who can be good for their business.
Stark wins the election and makes good on his campaign promises; but as his power grows, so too does the corruption which, history shows, so often follows political success.
The novel first published in 1946 was inspired by true events: the rise of Louisiana Governor and U.S. Senator Huey Long, whose tumultuous career might have taken him to the White House had he not been assassinated in 1935. His brother Earl followed him as governor; and the legacy of the Long machine is still felt in American politics today. The first film of All The King's Men won the Best Picture Academy Award in 1949. This new version is adapted from the novel and directed by recent Oscar-winner Steven Zaillian (he won a statuette for his 1993 Schindler's List screenplay); and Zaillian insists the earlier All The King's Men was not an influence on his film.
"I encourage the prop and makeup people and everybody else on the film not to see it," Zaillian says. "I don't like the idea of doing remakes, especially of films that are good. I just felt that this one was relevant to today. It's 60 years since the original was made, I don't think there's a lot of people running out to see it and I think it should be seen. There might be some expectations or comparisons to the original film, but my introduction to it and inspiration in terms of the way it looks and feels is from the 'original' original, which is the book."
"I think what's made the legend of Robert Penn Warren's book last so long is that it just stays relevant," adds star Sean Penn, also an Oscar-winner. He says the novel, the true history and making the film in Louisiana, where the events actually took place, all helped him create his explosive Willie Stark.
"I don't see it as an evil character," Penn says. "Certain challenges make certain compromises and corruption gets in the way of certain things, but that doesn't qualify it as evil to me. Louisiana is a little like a human library as well as a historical playground for somebody looking for influences. Of course it was the Long brothers, the evangelical roots of oration in their experience ...a lot of things combined together."
It is populism that brings Willie Stark to power; but once in office, he soon decides that to be effective, he must do whatever it takes to exercise and increase that power:
Veteran political advisor James Carville has described the original novel as one of the best guides to understanding modern American politics. Carville is executive producer of the film and the Louisiana native says the story seems to get more relevant every day.
"The governor of Connecticut just got out of jail and the governor of Illinois is getting ready to go and the Congressman from a most affluent district in California is going to be a guest of the Federal government [in prison] for about 10 years ...so I think that events since we began this movie have done nothing but to bear out, in ways that we could not foresee, just how relevant it is and how much it speaks to things today," he says. "I don't know what people will think when they walk out of this movie, but I do know they will think and that in itself is something ...at least to get them thinking."
All The King's Men also features Jude Law as journalist Jack Burden, who sacrifices his principles to share in the power as aide to the governor; Kate Winslet plays Anne, the tragic woman who finds herself drawn to both men; and Mark Ruffalo portrays her brother Adam, whose idealism and family devotion take him on a course of deadly action against Willie Stark.