PLOT: Hal (Timothee Chalamet), the prodigal son of the king of England, is forced to take the throne and guide his army through a brutal war with the French, with only sage advice from his best friend, Sir John Falstaff (Joel Edgerton) to guide him.
REVIEW: It’s been pointed out more than a few times that Netflix makes the kinds of movies mainstream studios have all but abandoned. Fifteen years ago, a film like THE KING would have been an event, with the historical action genre at an all-time high as far as popularity went. How things have changed. Now, a movie this is seen as risky, despite the presence of someone like Timothee Chalamet, one of the most hyped actors of his generation, in the lead.
Thank the movie gods then for Netflix, as THE KING ranks with the genre’s best entries, with it more focused than the underrated OUTLAW KING and thus likely to appeal to a larger audience. Directed by ANIMAL KINGDOM’s David Michod, and loosely based on several Shakespeare plays (albeit without any Shakespearian dialogue), this is a thrilling, character-driven historical actioner done on a grand scale. It cries out to be seen on the big screen, but home theaters will have to do.
Notably, Chalamet is cast against type in his first heroic lead. Up to now he’s been typecast as sullen, moody teens (a role he plays to perfection), but THE KING is his first heroic adult part and he nails it in a way that bodes extremely well for the upcoming adaptation of DUNE. No real effort has been made to disguise his slight build, and his Hal, aka King Henry V, isn’t supposed to be a hulking, badass warrior. His strength comes from within, as he’s shown to be virtually without ego and ambition, scorning his father (a fun Ben Mendelsohn) to carouse with the kindly Falstaff (Joel Edgerton – who co-wrote this with Michod), only to be pressed into service. He has several big battles, with his preference to fight man to man with whoever is leading the opposing army to spare unnecessary slaughter, and when he has to fight he’s shown to be wily rather than brawny. It’s the perfect role for Chalamet, who also ditches the any sense of being sullen to play this heroic, confident part. I always liked him, but for the first time, I think Chalamet might be one of our next truly great actors.
Edgerton has a delicious supporting part as the initially comical Falstaff, who turns out to be a seasoned military vet and tactician, and notably, the only one Hal can rely on for council, as like his friend, he has no real ego or ambition. Edgerton underplays the role admirably, as Falstaff could have easily been turned into a scenery-chewing foil, but it doesn’t happen.
The only real scenery-chewing comes, appropriately, from Robert Pattinson as the movie’s big villain, the sniveling, evil Dauphin, prince of France. This approach is just right as Pattinson doesn’t shy away from delivering us a truly detestable baddie, and one you can’t wait to see get his violent comeuppance. Sean Harris also has a strong part as one of the king’s seemingly more trustworthy advisors.
Michod’s made a gorgeous film, with it by far his most ambitious to date and it gives us a unique insight into historical warfare, emphasizing how unwieldy armor and swords of the era were, and how difficult it could be fighting on unforgiving terrain. The action is mostly limited to the third act, but when it hits it does so with a vengeance. It’s tied together by a terrific score by Nicholas Britell, best known for his scores to Barry Jenkins films and HBO’s (amazing) “Succession”, with this his first “epic” soundtrack – and a well done one to boot.
THE KING is a terrifically entertaining historical drama and one of the best examples of the genre since KINGDOM OF HEAVEN (at least – the director’s cut that is). It’s a winner for Netflix and the kind of thing that sucks you right in, even if the genre isn’t necessarily one of your favorites. It might get drowned out by more prominent Netflix movies like MARRIAGE STORY and THE IRISHMAN, but on its own merits, it’s no less great.