All the King’s Men

Rated 2.0

Robert Penn Warren’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about a Southern demagogue (a thinly veiled portrait of Louisiana’s Huey Long, assassinated in 1935) gets a pretentious adaptation by writer-director Steven Zaillian, with Sean Penn as the doomed politician and a pedigreed supporting cast (Jude Law, James Gandolfini, Patricia Clarkson, Kate Winslet, Anthony Hopkins and more). Unlike Robert Rossen’s 1949 film of the book, this one is bloated and highfalutin; Zaillian gets bogged down in the swampy bayous of his actors’ thick cracker accents, and by the time the climax comes, the movie is barely moving at all. Penn’s tub-thumping overacting throws the movie off-kilter; he plays the corrupted hero as a foaming, smarmy demagogue almost from the start, giving this Humpty Dumpty no place from which to fall.