THE STORY – Young Henry V encounters deceit, war and treachery after becoming King of England in the 15th century, in the aftermath of his brother’s death.
THE CAST – Timothée Chalamet, Joel Edgerton, Sean Harris, Lily-Rose Depp, Robert Pattinson & Ben Mendelsohn
THE TEAM – David Michôd (Director/Writer) & Joel Edgerton (Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 140 Minutes
By Matt Neglia
Coming off of “Outlaw King” last year, Netflix is the only studio in town who seem to be interested in funding historical epics to match the size and stakes of HBO’s “Game Of Thrones.” Looking to capitalize on such success, they have now given us “The King,” a vast improvement over last year’s effort, though not reaching the heights of the Emmy juggernaut or on the film side of things, to the level of a “Braveheart” or “The Lord of the Rings.” Instead, it is a solidly crafted medieval epic that brings about interesting themes of loyalty, honor, strength, and justice in a time where there barely is any. With all-around excellent production value, an attractive cast led by an even more attractive leading man and a story that does its best to cram a mini-series worth of content into two hours and twenty minutes, “The King” may not be the king but it’s not a jester either.
Set in England during the 15th century (and loosely based off of the works of William Shakespeare) Hal (Timothée Chalamet), is a young prince who has distanced himself from his ruling but now ill father (Ben Mendelsohn) to a life of partying and drinking with his friend John Falstaff (Joel Edgerton). However, when the king dies, Hal is forced into the position, effectively becoming King Henry V. When a mocking insult is sent his way from the King of France, Hal decides not to engage in warfare despite the counsel from the advisors in his court, seeking a new direction from his father’s previous bloody ways. Torn between doing what he feels is right, versus what has been thrust upon him, the new king must face several difficult tests with bloody consequences that will slowly change him.
Timothée Chalamet initially impressed us all with his Academy Award-nominated performance in “Call Me By Your Name.” He has continued to impress us all since then and that doesn’t stop with “The King.” Taking on a very serious role, which requires the 23-year-old actor to stretch beyond his years, out of his comfort zone and get physical (there’s one un-edited long shot featuring him fighting in the mud with every muscle in his thin body), Chalamet rises up to the challenge and shoves a sword through its heart. As the young king caught between doing the honorable or dishonorable thing for the good of his kingdom, he brings a brooding sensibility that balances strength and weakness. Should he be compassionate or show no mercy towards his enemies? Chalamet brings the complexity and drama needed to pull off the role convincingly. When the time comes for him to deliver a rousing speech to his men on the battlefield, he delivers with a volcanic power that is enough to make anyone throw down their life for him.
Outside of Chalamet, “The King” features a supporting cast of colorful performances. Joel Edgerton rocks an expressive accent, with a gravelly voice and battle-worn demeanor that hints at a lifetime of character development, without the assistance of flashbacks. Rocking an equally expressive but less convincing accent is Robert Pattinson as Louis “The Dauphin.” His performance is oozing with arrogance but lacking in substance due to being introduced way too late into the narrative to make a strong enough impression outside of the sheer wackiness of it all. Sean Harris and Ben Mendelsohn bring gravitas and credibility to their authoritative roles while sadly, Lily-Rose Depp is left with very little to do until the very end of the film. Overall, while no one is outwardly embarrassing in this (I admire that Pattinson is going for it here even if it is distracting casting), no one is ever given quite enough material to deliver a fully rounded performance at the same level as Chalamet.
David Michôd’s latest film is perhaps his most technically ambitious yet. With period costumes, sets, action set-pieces featuring trebuchets and a muddy (instead of bloody) battle sequence at the end (that more than a few times conjured up memories of “Game Of Thrones'” famous “Battle of the Bastards”), “The King” is immersive and gradually builds its stakes very well. After a clunky first act in terms of setting up the story and the characters, the film progressively gets better once Hal ascends to the throne and begins his conflict with France. The cinematography by Adam Arkapaw is strikingly effective in the way it uses light and shadows (although it doesn’t meet the colorful and majestic visuals he captured in 2015’s “Macbeth”) while Nicholas Britell’s sullen, string based score is easily one of my favorite’s of the year.
As a young, idealistic king looking to make the world a better place through justice and peace, Hal learns that peace is a lie. It’s when David Michôd explores the conflict of ruling with kindness versus with an iron fist, that “The King” becomes a thoughtful examination of the responsibilities of ruling. Aided by an impressive lead turn from Timothée Chalamet in a masculine role unlike any other he has taken on before, above-average cinematography, score and a supporting cast you simply wish there was more from, “The King” is a great improvement over Netflix’s previous medieval epic “Outlaw King.” However, even at two hours and twenty minutes, with the amount of content provided and how quickly the film moves through its first act (not to mention the fact that they’re releasing a 3.5-hour long movie this year on their platform), one wishes Michôd’s latest had more time to let its narrative and characters breathe a bit more. Maybe then, it could’ve climbed onto the throne with other epic films from this period. Some will hail “The King” but not enough.
THE FINAL SCORE
THE GOOD – A masculine, brooding performance from Timothee Chalamet who continues to impress. Impressive visuals, a gorgeous score and a terrific muddy battle scene at the end.
THE BAD – Crams in too much content for a standard length film to hold, even at nearly two and a half hours.