From my upcoming review in The American Conservative:
At the 2005 Oscars, host Chris Rock asked,
"Who is Jude Law? Why is he in every movie I have seen the last four years? Even the movies he's not acting in, if you look at the credits, he made cupcakes or something. He's gay, he's straight, he's American, he's British. Next year he's playing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar."
In response, an even more than usually pompous Sean Penn defended Law on TV as "one of our finest actors." This ensured a slagging by film critics of the new version of "All the King's Men," in which Penn plays the Huey Long-inspired populist demagogue Willie Stark and Law his enervated aristocrat press secretary Jack Burden, who can never quite decide whether that's a gleam or a glint in his boss' eye.
Surprisingly, after endless editing, "All the King's Men" turns out to be an intelligent, serious film with memorable dialogue, which writer-director Steven Zaillian (who wrote "Schindler's List") largely lifted straight from the book. The famous 1946 novel by poet Robert Penn Warren tends toward the lyrically overripe when Burden narrates, but comes alive when Stark opens his mouth, furnishing as many superb lines as we're likely to hear in a 2006 movie.
While the new film is not as effective as the 1949 Best Picture version (with an Oscar-winning turn by Broderick Crawford), it is more artistically ambitious. Its flaws are frustratingly numerous, but not fatal.