Tuesday, November 12, 2019

The King Has Noble Intent But Only Intermittently Successful Execution

It's always difficult to suddenly assume a new job but it's especially trying when your the son of a King of England who doesn't want anything to do with the throne and then you're forced to become the King when your pops dies. Don't you hate it when that happens? Those circumstances have just befallen King Henry V (Timothee Chalamet), whose distaste with the throne is even greater than his thirst for alcohol. He didn't want this gig, but Henry V is trying to create a more peaceful kingdom compared to his far more trigger-happy father who was always going to war with everybody who gave him so much as a bad look. But The King is a dark drama and that means Henry V's ambitions for peace will not go according to plan.

The King comes courtesy of director David Michod and is written by both Michod and Joel Edgerton and their work on the film is at its best when it leans hard into the hammy. This is especially apparent in early scenes depicting Henry V's party-boy attitude contrasting with the prim-and-proper nature of the longstanding royal aides. Such a dynamic means one could see this movie being made with Jack Black in the Henry V role without much tweaking and also leads to an amusing sense of dissonance hammering home how this young kid really is out of his league with the throne. Henry V and chums also engage in all kinds of distinct dialogue that makes use of era-appropriate slang and colloquialisms that further lend a sense of unique identity to the proceedings.

How many other period pieces like this one reference a "prince's puking bucket"? Not many! This role is also an interesting test for Timothee Chalamet's talents as an actor as he's really been in mostly subdued projects up to this point that typically have him engaging in performances informed more by subtlety rather than bombastic gestures. It's a bold bit of unexpected casting, then, to have Chalamet playing a part calling for him to bang a wall, give a passionate speech and even occasionally dabble in the Nicolas Cage/Al Pacino realm of extreme yelling to express displeasure. While not a perfect performance, it is at least one that allows Chalamet to step outside his comfort zone to frequently intriguing results.

However, Chalamet likely could have delivered even more interesting work if The King didn't end up being so paint-by-numbers, especially on a general story level. Henry V eventually goes down a traditional character arc path of being an idealistic ruler who becomes corrupted by a lust for violence and vengeance and while I'm aware writers Michod and Edgerton are working from actual history here as a guidebook, surely there could have been more inventive ways to execute this tale. Whereas the best moments of The King have a ribald unpredictability to them (like whatever Robert Pattinson is doing as a French antagonist), too much of its critical character beats are predictable as heck.

The supporting characters are also let down by the writing, which includes Henry's weary pal Falstaff (Joel Edgerton). Falstaff is critical to the earliest scenes of The King but ends up vanishing for prolonged periods of time in the movie and what time he is on-screen isn't enough to make him someone you can get emotionally invested in. Joel Edgerton does commendable work conveying how Falstaff is a veteran of war who is internally tormented by the grisly horrors of the battlefield. However, he struggles more with capturing a believable warm rapport with Chalamet, the two's dynamic just never comes across as an authentic representation of how best buds would behave.

David Michod's directing is as erratically successful as the screenplay. There are some memorably composed shots in here and Michod's dedication to portraying battlefield combat as repugnant rather than cool is a smart decision. Unfortunately, such a visual choice ends up leaving a prolonged skirmish in the mud between Henry V's troops and enemy French forces a visual slog, it's hard to keep track of who's who and it all gets so repetitive to watch oh so fast. The thematic intent of this scene is clear and interesting but this sequence and too much of The King is like a hanging that goes awry; the execution leaves much to be desired.

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