THE KING (James Marsh). 103 minutes. Opens Friday (June 16). For venues and times, see Movies, page 107. Rating: NNN Rating: NNNNN
A young man newly discharged from the Navy looks up the father he never knew and insinuates himself into his world. The father ( William Hurt ) is a fundamentalist Christian preacher. The young man, Elvis ( Gael García Bernal ), is a psychopath. We know up front that he's a psychopath because we've been watching those affectless eyes and that mild-mannered demeanour at least since Martin Sheen in 1973's Badlands. And that's a good thing, because it keeps the tension up when the drama sags, as it does, briefly, around the one-hour mark.
But this isn't a genre piece; no cliché-drenched stalk-'n'-slash here. Nor is it a putdown of fundamentalist America - just cool, even-handed drama that allows you your own emotional responses.
Director James Marsh is exploring American society, character and archetypes. He does it very well, with a strong documentary feel for places and faces and a knack for catching his characters in private moments.
His cast responds with rigorously naturalistic performances - much emotion in the eyes, little in the voices. Hurt's performance is the opposite of his flamboyant gangster in A History Of Violence. Bernal (Che Guevara in The Motorcycle Diaries) keeps Elvis this side of credibility, and chills by never selling us chills.
You might call it comedy if yours is an exceptionally black sense of humour. Or you might just watch and muse on a culture that consistently obsesses over both its particular vision of family and the soul-dead loner killer.