Vote of No Confidence

The Baltimore Sun

James Carville, who molded Bill Clinton's first presidential race around the solid notion "It's the economy, stupid," is one of the executive producers of the new, all-star version of Robert Penn Warren's Pulitzer Prize-winning 1946 novel, All the King's Men. Carville should have pasted a similar slogan on the set of this misguided, maladroit movie: "It's the politics, stupid."

The writer-director Steve Zaillian fails the material at the basic level of dramatizing the bond between a people's politician and the people. Warren's Willie Stark, a veiled portrait of Louisiana Gov. Huey Long, became the most famous and resonant character in American political fiction because he represents with equal demotic eloquence the dream and nightmare of democracy. He's a dirt-under-the-nails lawyer and door-to-door salesman who learned everything his schoolteacher wife Lucy taught him and then passed the state bar on his own strength and gumption. He achieves unprecedented popular support because he addresses the agrarian poor as hicks and rednecks and says he's one himself - and proves it by coming clean on how a city politician tried to use him to split the rural vote.

All the King's Men (Columbia Pictures) Starring Sean Penn, Jude Law, Kate Winslet, James Gandolfini, Patricia Clarkson, Anthony Hopkins. Directed by Steve Zaillian. Rating PG-13. Time 128 minutes.

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