With a series of great performances in 'Amores Perros', 'Y Tu Mamá También', 'The Motorcycle Diaries' and 'Bad Education', Mexican actor Gael García Bernal has etched himself into the memories – and in many cases hearts - of far more than just arthouse cinema audiences. But up until 'The King', he had yet to make an English-language film. From the outside its credentials look good - a great co-star in William Hurt, an interesting premise - but while Bernal and the rest of the cast keep their end of the bargain, the film itself lets them down.
Just discharged from the navy, Elvis (Bernal) goes in search of David Sandow (Hurt), the father he has never known. His journey takes him to Texas, where Sandow is a charismatic preacher with the picture perfect family in wife Twyla (Harring), daughter Malerie (James) and son Paul (Dano). Elvis introduces himself, but there's no tearful reunion - Sandow sees the young man as part of the life he led before he was born again and instructs him not to come near his house again. Undeterred, the troubled Elvis decides to get to know the family a different way, wooing his half-sister Malerie, who's blissfully unaware of his true identity and nature.
Director James Marsh's co-writer on 'The King', Milo Addica, was also responsible for another skewed Southern drama, 'Monster's Ball'. For that film Halle Berry won an Oscar for her performance as Leticia Musgrove, the widow of a death row prisoner who begins a relationship with racist prison guard Hank Grotowski (Billy Bob Thornton). But just as 'Monster's Ball' felt like it was missing an entire act – a one-night stand and Grotowski is cured of his prejudice - so too does 'The King' require the audience to suspend their disbelief. On too many occasions.
It begins promisingly, with some nice character build-up, but once Bernal's evil Elvis takes up with his half-sister, the plot goes downhill. Had the story not taken so many big leaps it would've resulted in a far more credible film - a slow burning character study where less was more. Instead, things become far too outlandish and long before the close the words 'ham' and 'fisted' join together in a bond that no amount of good acting can break.
For the performances, but nothing else.