Directed By David Michod
Starring – Timothee Chalamet, Joel Edgerton, Robert Pattinson
The Plot – Hal (Chalamet), wayward prince and reluctant heir to the English throne, has turned his back on royal life and is living among the people. But when his tyrannical father dies, Hal is crowned King Henry V and is forced to embrace the life he had previously tried to escape. Now the young king must navigate the palace politics, chaos and war his father left behind, and the emotional strings of his past life – including his relationship with his closest friend and mentor, the aging alcoholic knight, John Falstaff (Edgerton).
Rated R for some strong violence, and adult language.
– Unexpected direction. Most stories revolving around the chase for the throne detail these deceiving characters using whatever advantage they can to seek the fame and fortunes that they desire, but “The King” uniquely flips this narrative in a way that boldly illustrates the pressures of the throne. For Henry V, it’s the character evolution while being on the throne itself that brings forth a determination to do the ugly deeds in order to attain what is necessary for peace. This more than anything compromises the young man we were introduced to early on, who turned down the throne so as not to be a part of the hierarchy that put so many of his citizens in danger. It takes this conventional re-telling of European history, and transcends that tag in order to become a candid character piece, full of enough political insight and profound weight in historical significance to constantly keep shedding its skin towards finding its own original method of storytelling.
– Fluid pacing. 140 minutes of screen time originally worried me when I saw while studying the film’s information, but the consistency of the dramatic tension, combined with emphasis in its brutality, brought forth a sit that even at nearly two-and-a-half hours I still didn’t want to walk away from. This is a story that is constantly moving forward, crafting a series of noise in subplots playing in the background in the same way they do King Henry V’s mind when making a pivotal decision, and it produces a strong amount of urgency that is not typical prominent in an early 19th century movie. Some liberties were certainly taken with the consistency of adverse arrivals, but for the integrity of the picture, everything is at least entertaining above all else, tweaking the factual capacities for an entertaining narrative that welcomes audiences to something they otherwise wouldn’t.
– Seamless production. This aspect is everywhere. From the personality that marries itself with the factual of multi-layered costume designs, to the immensity of sparse details that exist within the framing of each interior set design, to the attention given to British and French conversation structure, everything inside offers a teleporting experience that really caters to immersing yourself in these familiar faces losing themselves to the proper time period. In this regard, it is Netflix most ambitious property to date, and one that will surely make the awards war with the silver screen all the more difficult because of this gap-bridging that is visually commanding. Most of it falls on the shoulders of Michod, who balances the most in 19th century visual capacities with 21st century filmmaking, producing a hybrid marriage that blends surprisingly natural in maintaining its immersive qualities.
– One bright idea. Easily my favorite aspect of the film is the choice to use natural lighting to document these scenes. This not only plays wonderfully in establishing the dark, gritty atmosphere that cinematographer Adam Arkapaw vividly entrances us with, but conveys a natural presence in the pre-electricity age that offers an alluring quality to ugly rendering. That may sound like a back-handed compliment, but my investment to a film is made all the more tighter when I’m feeling the very same aspects that its people did for the proper time period, and while shadows might not be visually appealing to most because of their distracting nature, it’s the way they articulate its place in time that allows it to forget the ideal artistic prejudice that exists in most big budget presentations.
– War sequences. There are only two in this film, but even for a streaming service quality of scope, the scenes are enriched with a level of unriddled intensity that allows them to hold their own against the big boys of the genre. Most of it falls on composer Nicholas Britell’s magnetically riveting score, for the way it encapsulates the very tragedy and gratifying circumstances of war, but more than that it’s the use of some gorgeous shot selection’s that keep your eyes glued to the screen. Michod uses a lot of long take character tracking shots to impress us with physical stunt choreography, but even more than that, it’s the heat of the atmosphere with all of its mud-slinging frenzy that vividly paints this soggy, dirty battlefield, and one whose vulnerability resonates throughout its barrage of bodies and brutality that the film is not ashamed to donate ample time towards.
– Gifted cast. The collective group of names brings forth one of the more talented ensembles of 2019, but the work individually measures the constant professionalism in spades that allowed some of today’s best to lose themselves in the confines of their roles. Kicking it off in that regard is Edgerton, who pulls double duty as a star and screenwriter, is easily my favorite character of the film as Falstaff. This man is the film’s humor and personality, but even more than that it’s the devotion to Henry V that easily cements him as the heart of the film, and one that thankfully we get plenty of time with. Pattinson might be the show-stealer again, however, as this French army leader, who is every bit as intended over-the-top for the scene, as he is antagonizing as a villain. Pattinson lays it on thick with his English-French accent and endless conceit, almost turning the film into a comedy at times. But the way he once again transforms himself as a chameleon actor who lives and breathes through the character, is something that makes him one of the best going today, and the commander of many scene-stealing appearances throughout the film’s second half. Finally, one of Hollywood’s best kept secrets in Sean Harris is let out of the bag with a performance that toes the line of trustful and seedy accordingly. It helps that his delivery isn’t comical or over-the-top in a way that meanders the effectiveness of the intention, instead burning in the background like the tarantula that his character rightfully is, and popping into frame at only the right moments to stir the pot of dramatic tension.
– Profound reflection. One of the more interesting aspects of the film is who it depicts as the “Villain” of the war. There are many sides addressed in this regard; from the unsettling tensions mounting from the French adversaries, to King Henry IV, Henry V’s father, whose one man democracy has cost England so many lives and money from a war that many deemed unimportant, and then there’s the third refreshing side that could even resonate to the kinds of decisions that our own people in power today are going through, and that’s those string-pullers behind the scenes. It’s easy to comprehend how these whisperers are responsible for so much, stirring the shit with the king in a way that better manufactures this war, and has Henry himself making decisions that he never wanted nor expected to make. That’s what is truly rewarding about this film. That idea that anyone inside could be considered an antagonist to the story, and that there are no black or white characters, only varying shades of grey.
– Concept of hate. What really struck me about this film was the way it examines how hate is grown from ignorance and vanity, and fostered by the corrupt and greedy to have influence on those intended. This is certainly another one of those shape-shifting themes that can feel prominent in our own world, but how it’s used here condemns experience in a way that is reflective of the greed they seek, and how many people they’re willing to step on in order to attain it. This for me was an absolutely phenomenal statement for a film like this to make, if only to take time maintaining a theme in a way that coincides with what is transpiring on-screen, all the while cementing it further in the actions given. It gives poignant food-for-thought in a way that makes a story so dated surprisingly timeless with its themes, and makes this one of the more spiritually rewarding films of the 2019 movie year.
– Minimal character depth. This shines more prominent when you have these familiar faces playing such unimportant characters to the dynamic of the time they’re given to make an impact. Even for a movie as lengthy as “The King” is, characters like King Henry IV, Henry’s sister Philippa, or even the love interest subplot that is coldly introduced in the final ten minutes of the film, all required more exposition and interaction to get the beats of their characters over, and warrant their inclusion at all to the integrity of the film. Without it, they all feel like obvious plot devices in a bigger scheme with each scene they accompany, and it leaves so very little opportunity for a female presence to dominate in the foreground of this picture.
– Leading man. If you noticed one big name missing from my performance section, it’s Timothee Chalamet as King Henry V, who is every bit as underwhelming in the role as he was miscast. I have nothing against Chalamet as an actor. His turns in “Beautiful Boy” and “Call Me By Your Name” are some of the very best of their respective years, but when tasked to emote as the inspirational figure who led the Brits into France, Chalamet’s reserved registry just doesn’t fit the bill. The long-winded diatribes are fine enough, but when the camera opens up Chalamet during personal scenes of reflection, it’s clear there’s so very little to the character that is only hinted at, and very rarely ever realized. With a volted protagonist performance, “The King” could be one of the best films of the fall season, but because Timothee feels more fit for a Calvin Klein commercial instead of a decorated soldier of war, it doesn’t quite fit the throne that it inherits.
My Grade: 8/10 or B