Sight and Sound - "Forgotten Pleasures"
James Marsh, US/UK, 2005
By Catherine Wheatley, academic and critic, UK
Back in 2006 I was the only person to select James Marsh’s debut feature in my contribution to S&S’s films of the year poll and assumed my critical faculties had failed me. Others were not kind to The King; indeed Variety’s Todd McCarthy expressed particular distaste, condemning the film as “noxious” and “aggravating”, before taking Marsh to task for the film’s uneasy occupation of a middle ground between atmospheric emphasis and docudrama intensity. Yet as 2008’s much-lauded Man on Wire has borne out, it’s precisely this quality that gives Marsh’s films their discomforting hold over us. Revisiting The King today, it’s remarkable how much Marsh’s Southern gothic prefigures another pair of critical hits from that year, namely No Country for Old Men andThere Will be Blood. It was Marsh, not P.T. Anderson, who first connected the angular, earnest severity of Paul Dano with religious zealotry, casting him alongside Gael García Bernal as the Abel and Cain sons of a Texan preacher played by William Hurt (an underrated classic himself). It was his film, before the Coens’, that squeezed out an ophidian narrative that went nowhere we expected it to but that was constantly infused with the faint, nauseating stench of unfathomable evil.The King is worth seeing for these reasons and many more, but especially for one indelible tracking shot that features towards the film’s end. It’s dreadful and gorgeous, and lingers with me even – perhaps especially – on the brightest of days.