All The King's Men


All The King's Men

Critics Consensus

With a scenery-chewing performance from Sean Penn, an absence of political insight, and an overall lack of narrative cohesiveness, these Men give Oscar bait a bad name.



Total Count: 156


Audience Score

User Ratings: 92,010
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All The King's Men Photos

Movie Info

The legacy of a populist Southern politician whose lofty ambitions for the future leave him open to corruption and scandal is detailed as author Robert Penn Warren's thinly veiled portrait of Depression-era Louisiana governor Huey Long comes to the screen -- again -- this time courtesy of director and screenwriter Steven Zaillian. Willie Stark (Sean Penn) is a man of the people, and for the people; at least that's what he tells the people. Propelled into a race for governor by opposing forces looking to split the "hick vote," Stark is convinced by a handler -- as well as by young journalist Jack Burden (Jude Law) -- to not kowtow to the powers that be. His rhetoric grows fiery, and he makes his way into office on a not-so-solid foundation of social-service promises. When idealism gives way to the harsh realities of the time, however, the fast-talking politico is quick to discover just how far one can fall when ambition and power lead to a betrayal of one's original motivations. Kate Winslet, Patricia Clarkson, James Gandolfini, Mark Ruffalo, and Anthony Hopkins round out an all-star cast in this second version of Warren's Pulitzer Prize-winning 1947 novel; the first won a parade of Oscars after its release in 1949. ~ Jason Buchanan, Rovi

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Sean Penn
as Willie Stark
Jude Law
as Jack Burden
Kate Winslet
as Anne Stanton
Mark Ruffalo
as Adam Stanton
Patricia Clarkson
as Sadie Burke
Anthony Hopkins
as Judge Irwin
James Gandolfini
as Tiny Duffy
Kathy Baker
as Mrs. Burden
Talia Balsam
as Lucy Stark
Frederic Forrest
as Willie's Father
Glenn Morshower
as Commissioner
Caroline Lagerfelt
as Mrs. Peyton
Valerie Stodghill
as Miss DuMonde
Nicole Bobek
as Ice Skater
Tom Aldredge
as Carruthers' Banker
Lenka Peterson
as Savannah Clerk
Eileen Ryan
as Lily Littlepaugh
Gary Grubbs
as Sheriff
Hunt Downer
as Senate Leader
Elijah Luke Morris
as Jack (age 10)
David Montgomery John
as Adam (age 11)
Bruce Heinrich
as Mr. Burden
Jordan Rhodes
as MacMurphy
Joshua Davis
as Jack (age 4)
Keb' Mo'
as Slade's Guitarist
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News & Interviews for All The King's Men

Critic Reviews for All The King's Men

All Critics (156) | Top Critics (51)

  • What should have been an incisive study of the American political scene turns out a lumbering celluloid white elephant.

    Oct 30, 2006 | Full Review…
  • A Louisiana swamp of overacting and muddled plotlines sinks this cumbersome new version of Robert Penn Warren's political thriller.

    Oct 28, 2006 | Rating: 1/5 | Full Review…
  • The film isn't dreadful: it is just generally disappointing.

    Oct 26, 2006
  • It's a typical politician's tale -- all talk and no action.

    Oct 24, 2006 | Rating: 2/5 | Full Review…
  • The director can't seem to find a natural rhythm for the movie -- it's portentous and vague at the same time.

    Sep 25, 2006

    David Denby

    New Yorker
    Top Critic
  • All the King's Men was suspended in editing limbo for nearly a year, and the final result only makes the mind reel at what it could have been carved from.

    Sep 22, 2006 | Rating: 1.5/4 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for All The King's Men

  • Dec 15, 2011
    "All the Queen's Men". Oh wait, this is about the politician Sean Penn played "before" Harvey Milk. Actually, I think that I'd be more accurate in comparing this to "I Am Sam", because the way Penn's flailing around, you'd think he was going "full retard" all over again. Still, I wouldn't exactly say that he was overacting, like a lot of people say, because, man, I haven't seen enough of him and quite frankly, it's hard to "get" enough of him, because he is one powerhouse of an acting talent in just about everything he graces with his presence, including this film, in which he plays this frantic, idealist manipulator of a corrupt politician perfectly without an ounce of overacting, in my opinion. Of course, Mr. Penn plays this cheesy-sleazy a little too faithfully, to the point of being pretty annoying at points; and keep in mind that I just got done watching Michael Bay's "Transformers Trilogy", so Sean, if you're crazy enough to hear me in the future from 2006, cool it, Curly, or at least take some Ritalin there, Sam. Still, bug me all you want, it's hard to hate Sean Penn, just like it's hard to hate this adaptation of a highly acclaimed Pulitzer Prize-winning political-drama novel that's being written for the screen and directed by the great Steven Zaillian, and features such acting greats as, well, Sean Penn, as well as Jude Law, Kate Winslet, Anthony Hopkins, James Gandolfini and Patricia Clarkson, which is why I'm sure absolutely no self-respecting critic in his or her right mind could hate this wannabe-I mean obvious Oscar contender... right? Well, lucky for me, this is one of those occasions where most of the critics were wrong about an Oscar bait film (Yeah, big shocker), because I actually did like this, which isn't to say that it isn't kept from being a good as it could have been, due to quite a deal of flaws, some of which I'm gonna have to agree with the majority of critics on. As you would imagine from all of the reviews, this film didn't meet the Oscar criteria, but not for lack of trying, because like many other good chunks of Oscar bait before and after it, this film gets to be rather dull at points, due to dull tones and a deal of overdrawn sequences. Of course, then again, I don't remember one of the usual culprits of the slowness in an Oscar film being repetition, and yet, here it is; and it's not like their just trying to fill out time, because the film feels rather rushed in some places, particularly development. It's underdeveloped, slow and repetitious; and yet, what really keeps this film from being genuinely good, let alone great, is its simplest misstep: a lack of depth. As a screenwriter, Steven Zaillian is a should-be legend, but the problem with him is that he's so good that he always writes over the executors' heads, including - nay - especially his own. I'm personally unfamiliar with the source material behind this project, but its quality is palpable through its concept alone, and might have been made even more so by Zaillian's snappy, riveting re-imagining - repetitious though, it may be -, but when it comes down to bringing his own vision to life, Zaillian drops the ball as a director, not being able to fully capture the depth and intrigue of the source material until the final act and the subsequent ending, which are great - in spite of some inconsistent theme focus -, but come in much too late to fully redeem this potentially great success that may very well have been ameliorated by Zaillian's always graceful touch as writer. Still, although Zaillian is too good of a writer to catch up with, that's just it; he's too good of a writer. Although he makes one too many missteps for this film to fully succeed, it doesn't fully fail, like others say, not just because of the snap in Zaillian's writing, but because of the other quality aspects that are also too good for this film. The hook to this film is an absolute knockout, which of course makes it that much harder to accept the later and deep drop in quality, but there's still plenty of great things from that awesome hook to stays with the film... except the great score for some reason. James Horner and his composing team must have kept accidentally leaving the film running while they were on breaks, because the score just goes in and out; but cinematographer Paweł Edelman, on the other hand, showed up for work and stayed there, keeping the film consistently handsome and gritty, subtley, but noticably growing darker and darker with the film; and if there's any ounce of emotional resonance to be found in this film, then it's delivered by the gorgeous visual style. However, Mr. Edelman isn't the only person that establishes what resonance there is in this film by giving an underappreciated performance, because the stars in this all-star cast are stars for a reason. Even Jackie Earle Haley conquers the spotlight whenever it's on him with his presence; and yes, I'm saying "even" because Haley plays a not-so-huge role in this film, not because he isn't always great; because having an awesome, hardly recognizable presence is Jack Haley's thing. Of course, he's not the only one who grabs your attention, because virtually everyone in this film pulls you back in for every moment you fall out with their presence that boasts such humanity that you forget that these are all fictional characters in a fictional story; and yet, there are still two particular standouts, and those would be the leads. Jude Law is subtle, slick and charismatic as Jack Burden, getting you investested in him as a man going through his own struggles, as well as an avatar for the audience. Just as, if not more outstanding is, of course, Sean Penn, who I will admit isn't delivering one of his best performances, but I'm going to disagree with the critics when they say that that's actually saying something, because Penn is delivering yet another powerful, fascinating performances, and whether it's because he's nailing that hick Southern accent and charm, or portraying the steadily developing corruption of the Willie Stark in a slick, compelling fashion, you're drawn to him, maybe never to where he fully redeems the film, but enough for you to be wondering just what's going to happen next. In the end, it takes blows from the repetition and overlong sequences that exacerbate a dull tone, but is left as unfulfilling as it is by the lack of depth Zaillian takes as director; but as writer, Zaillian brings snap and life to this classic tale, picking up the film that is saved by the handsome visual style, and ultimately raised above average by each and every strong, deeply human performance, particularly Jude Law and Sean Penn, both of whom deliver the powerful portrayals of human corruption that ultimately leave Steven Zaillian's take on "All the King's Men" to stand as a not terribly effective, but still generally interesting analysis on the morality of men. 2.5/5 - Fair
    Cameron J Super Reviewer
  • Sep 23, 2010
    A powerful drama that is every bit as relevant today as it was when the original was made in 1949. Featuring an all-star cast that includes Sean Penn as the riveting populist politician, Willie Stark; Jude Law as Jack Burden, Stark's right-hand man and journalist who serves as the narrator; Kate Winslet, as Jack's childhood friend; Mark Ruffalo, James Gandolfini, Anthony Hopkins, Patricia Clarkson, and Kathy Baker, the film draws one in and asks the viewer to decide the age-old question, "Do the ends justify the means?" Steve Zaillian, who wrote and directed, has crafted a solid piece of cinema that allows the viewer to see how such an outspoken critic of the money men, and the influence their riches could purchase, would capture the hearts of the people and threaten the ruling class. Shot on location around the various parishes of Louisiana, one can almost feel the heat and humidity, and sense the quiet desperation of the poor, looking for a savior who would free them from the bonds of their poverty. Adapted from the Robert Penn Warren book of the same name, and based on the life, and death, of 1930s politician, Huey P. Long, the film faithfully recreates a time and place that hauntingly seems relevant to today's landscape. This one's a keeper.
    Mark A Super Reviewer
  • Jul 19, 2010
    In 1992, critics savaged Hoffa (Danny DeVito's ambitious bio-pic of the infamous teamster leader) as being "over directed," a term never fully understood by this particular critic. With its heavy-handed script, terribly miscast stars, and over-powering score, All the King's Men gave this once ambiguous criticism sudden meaning. As David Lean made clear with The Bridge on the River Kwai and Lawrence of Arabia-two films brilliantly balancing quality writing, acting, and directing at a grand length-great epics are born, not made. Notice the word "quality." All the King's Men wants so bad to be an epic that it forsakes this for quantity. In this R-rated remake of Robert Penn Warren's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, an honest everyman (Penn) rises through the rank and file of Louisiana politics only to become undone by corruption once he reaches the top, all under the watch of an eagle-eye reporter (Law). From casting big-name talent over the best possible actor for the role to director Steven Zallian's dubious, grand-scale, melodramatic alterations to the hallowed text, every aspect of All the King's Men proves to be a lesson in the dangers of over-indulgence. Penn's inspired performance notwithstanding, everybody else simply showed up to cash a generous paycheck, their native-born accents intact. Apparently, the producers were so taken with Leslie Howard's weak-kneed Englishman-in-Dixie Gone with the Wind performance that they hired Law to pull off the same...and he does. Worst of all, Zallian accuses the audience of stupidity. What else would explain the use of such blatant visuals (the Louisiana crest filling with blood at the end) to hammer home Warren's moral? Bottom line: All the king's horseshit.
    Jeff B Super Reviewer
  • May 27, 2010
    Sean Penn's performance was over-the-top, with Broderick Crawford from the original best picture winner giving the better one. But no one can doubt Penn's absolute energy as an actor and as a presence in the screen. What I severely did not like about this remake was the suddenness of Willie Stark's(Sean Penn) transformation from a clean-cut do-gooder to a corrupt politician. The film itself, although having an impressive photography, fails to capture the original's change of tones, as it relied on the gloomy atmosphere all too soon. I liked the way how director Steve Zaillian extended and deepened the Jack Burden character, and seeing all of it through his eyes, but the preaching narrations were too much. If there is one thing that has improved from the original, it is the (SPOILERS) scene of Willie Stark's assassination. Along with the beautiful orchestration of the said scene, again, there's no actor that can portray the anguish of physical pain and the "what has become of me?" facial expression quite like Sean Penn.
    Ivan D Super Reviewer

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