Anna and the King Reviews
This is lush costume drama, full of all the pomp and circumstance and majestic panning shots that you would expect. Occasionally the cinematography actually reminded me of The English Patient which is no small compliment. And Jodie Foster is a premier actress, especially when it comes to playing vulnerability and her character's attempts at overcoming vulnerability. She has that pout and fearful but determined look in her eye on full display in many of her scenes.
However, I think the film is quite muddled and uneven. First, there is a great deal of talk about colonization. After all, one of the principal conflicts in the film is internal to the king's educative mission: how does he push for modernization when the definition of modernity is to be like his oppressors? How does he resolve the contradiction of tradition and modernity? These are compelling questions, both academically and cinematically. But they are not adequately explored. For example, Anna travels with two Indian servants, and their objections to colonization's evils are restricted to a single look they share during the first ten minutes of the film. What is more, the king has few scenes taking this conflict on head-on, and the one character who does is later villainized.
Second, the film is uneven because there are several dramatic, heart-tugging scenes that are immediately followed by sprawling shots of beautiful scenery or teaching sequences in which everybody is smiling and laughing as though nothing of consequence happened just five seconds ago.
Overall, despite Foster's classic performance -- the type that has made her famous -- there are still too many structural flaws to ignore.
Andy Tennant has always been known for being nothing if not formulaic with his romantic flicks, and as compelling as this film is, it's not above Tennant's typical tastes and Steve Meerson's and Peter Krikes' scripted conventions, which leave the film hitting many a trope that it perhaps could have transcended, maybe if it didn't wander so deeply into a familiar path. As something of a fan of lengthy cinema, I feel that the two-and-a-half-hour runtime in instrumental in allowing this drama to flesh itself out as compelling, but, boy, it sure takes its time to do so, dragging along under the overwhelming weight of filler, if not material so excessive that unevenness sets in and shakes focus. I firmly dispute the accusations that this film is boring, because this is a very entertaining drama, although it is nonetheless aimless, taking way too long to tell a tale which would better sustain one's investment if there was more dramatic substance to justify so much extensive exposition. There are a number of grand conflicts, and few, if any major conflicts are ever less than compelling, and yet, there's still something dramatically lacking about this epic, which thrives about as much on fluff as anything, and ultimately has only so much to say. Still, whatever the film has to say, it says with more ambition than it probably should have, because, considering that this is Andy Tennant's adaptation of "Anna and the King of Siam" we're talking about, histrionics are about as predictable as predictability, all but plaguing storytelling with rather cheesily manufactured-feeling happenings and sentimental direction. The more Tennant tries to immerse you into the heart of this melodrama, the more he stresses the shortcomings, of which there are not enough to overshadow the rewarding strengths, but still enough to hold the final product back a draggy and lacking. Still, the fact of the matter is that the final product compels enough to reward the patient who can embrace inspiration through ambition, even in the aesthetic touches.
Speaking of conventions, George Fenton's and Robert Kraft's score is almost, if you will, pathetically formulaic in its fusion of Southeast Asian and western world sensibilities in a sentimental manner that is disconcerting enough in its augmenting a sense of melodramatics, and yet, with all of that said, the soundtrack remains lovely and complimentary to entertainment value, as surely as cinematographer Caleb Deschanel's trademark subtle lighting compliments the beauty of the film's visuals. Having assembled a hefty art direction team comprised of Tom Nursey, John Ralph, Marc Fisichella, Paul Ghirardani and Lek Chaiyan Chunsuttiwat, this film has at least earned universal acclaim for its production value, which is just, as the art directors manage to restore mid-19th century Siam, in all of its distinguished beauty, convincingly and lavishly, in order to liven things up with handsome visual after handsome visual, while immersing you into the grand setting of a pseudo-epic narrative. The story of Anna Leonowens' experience during and influence on major happenings in the royal house of Siam has been adapted in all sorts of ways, and this loose interpretation continues to explore the dramatic and thematic possibilities of this subject matter, being ultimately too formulaic, overdrawn and histrionic for you to disregard natural dramatic shortcomings, yet not so flawed that you can disregard the rather rich dynamicity and intimacy of this almost epic period drama. In fact, Peter Krikes and Steve Meerson play a respectable role in meeting a degree of the dramatic potential, for although their script is excessive in a number of ways, particularly with structuring, it carries its share of tight moments which really do flesh out a great deal of depth to this intimate narrative, partly through rich characterization that is made all the richer by across-the-board effective performances, the most charismatic of which being by Chow Yung-Fat and Jodie Foster. The leads may be seriously lacking in chemistry, but both charm by their own right, with certain dramatic layers on which the resonant highlights of this film thrive, about as much as they thrives on highlights in Andy Tennant's own dramatic performance. Sentimentality plagues Tennant's storytelling throughout the film and thins dramatic genuineness which could have carries the final product a long, long way, despite its natural shortcomings, and yet, with this prelude to a career filled with misfires, Tennant unveils potential as a storyteller, keeping the lighter aspects charming and adequately well-paced, and making sure that they flow into heavier moments organically enough for resonance to all but pierce. At the very least, Tennant keeps entertainment value consistent, because no matter how much the film drags its feet, there is enough color to get you by in between the dramatic heights which secure the final product as a fairly rewarding watch.
When the lesson is wrapped, formulaic and aimlessly overdrawn storytelling shines a light on dramatic limitations about as much as dramatic overambitions, whose overt sentimentality threatens genuine engagement value that is secured firmly enough by lovely, if generic scoring and cinematography, outstanding art direction, well-rounded writing, compelling performances, and entertaining, when not effective direction in order to secure Andy Tennant's "Anna and the King" as a plenty engaging and ultimately, to the patient, rewarding take on Anna Leonowens' time in Siam.
3/5 - Good