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Director Steven Zaillian's ‘All the King's Men’ is the New Version of a Timeless Story

A new film now in the movie theaters revisits the timeless concept of power and corruption. Director Steven Zaillian has created a new version of the old Hollywood movie "All the King's Men." Both films are based on the Pulizer Prize novel by the same title. It's a story set in the 1950s about the rise and fall of Willie Stark, a governor in the southern U.S. state of Louisiana.

Stark is a small-town official who decides to take on the rich and powerful and run for governor of Louisiana as a champion of the poor.

Willie wins by a landslide. And when he takes over, he collides head-on with city slickers and old money.

But director Steven Zaillian says Stark's victory comes with a heavy price.

"Willie Stark believes that in order to get things done, you sometimes have to do things that aren't considered perhaps moral. And if you don't, nothing is going to get done. And so, in his mind, the end justifies the means. That's how he gets good things done. It's also his undoing," concludes Zaillian.

It is also the undoing of people who work for him. One of them is Jack Burden, a young and jaded reporter from an aristocratic family. Jack is fascinated by Stark's feistiness and sense of purpose.

British actor Jude Law plays Jack. He says that contrary to Stark, Jack is blasé and noncommittal. "He thinks that as long as he doesn't know the people involved, he has no commitment to anyone, anything, anywhere."

But Jack's indifferent attitude changes when the governor's corrupt ways touch the lives of his personal friends. One of them is Judge Irwin, a well-spoken member of the gentry and one of Stark's fierce opponents.

Award winner Sir Anthony Hopkins plays Judge Irwin. "He's rather a shadowy figure" says Hopkins. "And he's not to be bought, and he's not to be manipulated. And Willie Stark tries to manipulate him."

In the end, Stark's bullying tactics and corrupt ways cost him dearly.

The film's dramatic irony and tragedy are heightened because the story is based on real-life events. Willie Stark's character is modeled after Huey Long, a Louisiana governor and senator in the 1930s, and a man so charismatic that American President Franklin D. Roosevelt felt threatened by him.

Huey Long's favorite phrase, "Every Man a King," reflected his genuine populism. But he also had an autocrat's hunger for power.

"All the King's Men" is an intelligent film, filled with tension and subtlety. The story, based on Robert Penn Warren's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, attempts to follow the complex nuances of the 700-page masterpiece, but it does not quite deliver.

In spite of the star-studded cast and the Oscar-worthy performance of Sean Penn as Willie Stark, the film does not shed enough light on complex relationships and key events from the book that are missing on the screen. There is plenty of droning dialogue, but not enough explanation of the motives behind the film's abrupt and violent climax.