Movie Review by Dan Spiers
Starring: Gael Garcia Bernal, William Hurt, Pell James, Laura Harring, Paul Dano
Director: James Marsh
THE KING, directed by James Marsh, is not about the Elvis, but it is about an Elvis. Elvis Valderez (Gael Garcia Bernal) leaves the navy and decides to track down the father he’s never met.
His search leads him to the Texan town of Corpus Christi, where he finds his father, David Sandow (William Hurt), pastor to a thriving Baptist church.
Pastor Sandow lives in a personal paradise that can ill-afford the appearance of his bastard son. He has a picture perfect family and a position in the community dependant on his peerless morality. So when Elvis introduces himself, Pastor Sandow makes it clear that nothing is going to change. He has a son and daughter who he adores and there is no more room at the inn.
But Elvis, bless him, is desperate for some love and rather than accept his father’s decision he befriends his half-sister, Malerie (Pell James). And seduces her. The peculiar thing about Marshall’s depiction of this relationship is just how natural it seems. Admittedly, this changes when Elvis makes love to her in her bedroom. She is 16, but it is the room of a child. And their father is asleep across the landing.
But for a brief period, before madness reigns, the relationship between Elvis and Malerie is quite touching. They are both rebelling against their fathers, but it just so happens they have the same one.
They take romantic walks along the river, dipping their toes in the water as summer sun dances this way and that and midges shoot hither and thither. Everything, on the surface, is just glorious.
The music too contributes to this summer idyll. It is the sound of innocence, of a wind up jewelry box. And so it comes as a complete surprise when Elvis kills his half-brother, Paul (Paul Dano) and says ‘How does it feel?’
The perversity of this movie knows no bounds for it is when Paul goes missing that Pastor Sandow tries to address his past sins by inviting Elvis into his home. He sleeps in Paul’s bedroom, tends the garden and pleasures his half-sister. And the wind up jewelry box plays on.
Marsh’s movie depicts the kind of world David Lynch has explored for years, but without the otherworldly nature of Lynch’s work. The murder in this film is cold blooded and the only mystery is when Elvis goes insane. Everything, other than Elvis’s bouts of madness is strangely subdued.
But despite the sedate pace THE KING remains engaging throughout. It is certainly a peculiarity but it is with morbid fascination that you watch Elvis’s progress. All of the performances are strong but Bernal has created the most disarming of murderers. He is terribly small. But then again, so was Mussolini. And Maradonna.