A letter from the filmmakers included with this disc reads, ”I guess some people will find… The King pretty extreme.” I had barely heard of this indy film going in, so I had few presuppositions to influence my experience. But before hitting play I read the letter, and that statement stuck with me as I watched. I wanted to know whether I was one of those people.
It turned out that I was. Sort of. There are aspects to this story that are so dark and twisted that I often found myself squirming as the scenes unfolded. At the same time, though, I found The King mostly the opposite of extreme. I had fully expected to see a blood-spattering climax of emotions fueled by secrets, sin and betrayal. In fact, after reading the filmmaker’s letter, I figured the picture would get messy pretty early on.
Instead, The King is incredibly subtle, and a marvel of simplicity. To say the film is uncluttered is an understatement. In the filmmaker’s commentary track, they discuss how their low production budget influenced the film’s minimalism simply because time constraints required them to pare the story down to just the essential scenes. With the way The King turned out, I wish some Hollywood production teams felt this sort of financial pinch.
While in some ways this film is very simple, that simplicity allows several complex and haunting undercurrents to flow along just below the surface. The story begins with Elvis (Gael Garcia Bernal, The Motorcycle Diaries), discharged from the Navy with a service rifle and duffle bag, heading “home” to Corpus Christi, Texas. There lives his father, David Sandow (William Hurt), whom he has never met. Sandow is the pastor of a Baptist Church, but he’s also a mean bastard and he wants nothing to do with Elvis, who’s a walking reminder of Sandow’s sinful past and a secret he has kept from his God-fearing family. Sandow warns his family to stay away from Elvis, but it’s too late; Elvis has already begun falling for Sandow’s quiet daughter, Malerie, who is oblivious to the incestuous nature of their budding relationship, and the terrible events it will spark.
At first, the film feels quiet and fragile, and it had me wondering when it would crack. The score helps enhance the feeling of fragility, with variations on a hauntingly beautiful little theme that sounds just a bit fuller than a child’s music box. There is also a lot of physical beauty in The King, from the characters – especially Elvis and Malerie – to the picturesque town of Corpus Christi and its surrounds. These visual aspects of the film are brilliantly captured by the camera work, with plenty of moments worthy of a second look.
That surface beauty is juxtaposed with the ugliness of the story. As The King progresses, events build on each other, intertwine, and begin to overwhelm if you pause to consider all that is happening. However, the beautiful visuals continue to offset the ugly plot, which creates an overall effect of subtlety.
The King is a great example of the adage ‘what people don’t know…can’t hurt them.’ There are many secrets at work between the characters, with the most influential being the fact that David Sandow being Elvis’ father. When these secrets come to light the pain is very real, and made stronger by the events that occurred before the characters’ learn the truth.
In the end, you need to watch The King to know how you’ll react to it. It’s an original film, and it certainly can come across as emotionally disturbing, but that overwhelming feeling sneaks up on you, and it may not be until the credits roll that you realize the full scope of what you’ve seen.
The King is presented on a single disc, in 1.78:1 (16:9) widescreen format. Overall, the picture looks very clear and sharp. There are some really gorgeous moments in this film, particularly in the outdoor scenes, which take full advantage of the natural light. The beauty tends to be a bit pale, but I’m certain this was an artistic choice, rather than an issue with colour. The transfer is not entirely perfect, as some of the darker scenes get a little soft and show a bit too much grain.
The menus are easy to navigate, and some slight animation and the score’s main theme add a nice touch, but they’re on a pretty short loop.
This disc offers two audio choices: Dolby Digital 5.1, and Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo. I’ll focus on the 5.1 mix, but rest assured that the 2.0 track seemed just fine. The King is a really quiet movie. The characters often speak in whisper, and rarely raise their voices to much more than a normal speaking volume. The score is also low on the dynamic scale, and it’s not always present, but there are a few moments where the sound picks up. As such, while the dialogue is always perfectly clear, a lot of the audio comes from the centre channel alone. When the music does float in, the front sound stage opens up nicely.
Overall, this mix does a fine job, but the rear channels do very little, and while the film is by nature quiet, there certainly were missed opportunities for ambient effects.
Audio is English only, with subtitles available
The bonus material includes deleted scenes, a rehearsal scene, an audio commentary by writer/producer Milo Addica and writer/director James Marsh, and theatrical trailers. All told, it’s a decent collection of extras.
There are four deleted scenes, set to automatically play all, and they run about seven minutes. They’re worth a look, but the filmmakers definitely made the right choices in cutting these scenes. One in particular, an extended cut of the prostitute scene from early in the movie, would have had a compromising impact on the development of Elvis’ character. The other three deleted scenes were merely superfluous and were likely cut for storytelling expedience.
The rehearsal scene is an interesting concept for a DVD special feature, and one I don’t recall seeing before. I say concept, because after watching the scene I wasn’t sure what to make of it. They did choose a pretty important scene, but the only real observation I made was that they cut a couple of lines at some point between that rehearsal and the final film. Perhaps if they’d included a short commentary track, the rehearsal scene would have more meaning.
The audio commentary with Milo Addica and James Marsh is definitely interesting. They’re both pretty good at staying focused on actual commentary, and they move along well with the film. The filmmakers discuss the choices they made, their intentions, and what influenced them. It’s all pretty serious, but then this is a serious film.
The theatrical trailers include the one for The King and a few for other ThinkFilm projects. Nothing special here, though it is interesting to see how they promoted this film.
The King is an original, well-made and thought-provoking film, and it’s presented on a good quality DVD. The performances of William Hurt and Gael Garcia Bernal alone make this a worthy rent, and if dark psychological thrillers are your thing, look to add The King to your collection.
Special Features List
- Deleted scenes
- Rehearsal scene with Paul Dano and Gael Garcia Bernal
- Audio commentary by writer/producer Milo Addica and writer/director James Marsh
- Theatrical trailers