All the King's Men:
I don't quite believe the film is a good one, but it has some good qualities. Maybe I think that way because I am a fan of monumental Robert Penn Warren novel the film seeks to interpret, and I because I am deeply interested in Huey P. Long, the Kingfish upon whom Warren based the character Willie Stark. While Robert Rossen's 1949 movie is superior to the present one, Zaillian's film is closer to the spirit of the novel that the earlier film. - Philip Martin, Arkansas Democrat Gazette
. . .one would almost expect this film to be Oscar worthy. But it's not. - Jim Harris, Arkansas Times
The picture’s moralism is unconvincing, not only because current sensibilities are unlikely to be shocked by misbehavior in high office (or out of it) but more seriously because Mr. Zaillian’s conception of politics is sentimental and unreal, and his sense of history is ultimately that of a decorator, not a storyteller. Impassioned oratory is a fine thing, but Willie Stark knew that you had to get those roads and bridges built as well. Like an electioneering candidate — which, given the incipient Oscar race, it is — “All the King’s Men” makes a lot of promises but fails to deliver the goods. - A.O. Scott, N.Y. Times
As Willie Stark, the Louisiana demagogue inspired by Huey Long in the new adaptation of Robert Penn Warren’s All the King’s Men
, Sean Penn demonstrates how a great Method actor can make the world’s most unconvincing rabble-rouser. A diligent county treasurer, Willie has been campaigning for governor by trying to elucidate the state’s financial irregularities to small groups of hicks, who stare at him vacantly. But when he finds out that he has been set up, lured into the race in order to split the hick vote and throw the election to the big-city candidate, Willie tosses away his prepared text and finds his true voice. He tells the hicks that he’s a hick, too, and that hicks have to stand up for themselves because no one else will. And sensing that something momentous is happening, the people begin to stream toward Willie, climbing the fences to get a better view, their smudged faces upturned. And all I could think was, How can they hear a fucking word?
It’s not the Louisiana accent. (Presumably that wouldn’t be an obstacle to Louisianans.) It’s that Penn is never happier than when he can mumble and brood and get all inward. He doesn’t give himself to the words and let them carry him along; he adds beats and half-beats to show you how hard he’s thinking.
Even when he shouts and gets off good, lusty line readings, the speech doesn’t build and take hold of you. Halfway through, the director, Steve Zaillian, cuts to Willie in different settings—a swamp, a park, a main street—to show how the candidate has taken his message to the road, and for some reason the composer, James Horner, scores the speech with elegiac, cradle-of-democracy strings that quiver and swell. By the time the sequence ended, I thought I’d seen five of the stupidest minutes in an American movie since Lady in the Water
. - David Edelstein, New York Magazine