Thursday, August 10, 2017

Movie Review: Message from the King

Message from the King ** ½ / *****
Directed by: Fabrice du Welz.
Written by: Oliver Butcher & Stephen Cornwell.
Starring: Chadwick Boseman (Jacob King), Teresa Palmer (Kelly), Luke Evans (Wentworth), Alfred Molina (Preston), Tom Felton (Frankie), Jake Weary (Bill), Natalie Martinez (Trish), Dale Dickey (Mrs. Lazlo), Chris Mulkey (Leary), Ava Kolker (Boot), James Jordan (Scott), Amin El Gamal (Martine), Arthur Darbinyan (Duc), Diego Josef (Armand), Lucan Melkonian (Zico). 
Message from the King is the kind of film that keeps you entertained from beginning to end, but never really gets you involved in it. You never really get invested in the story, because somehow the film just doesn’t quite connect on the level it should. This is a straight up revenge thriller – a neo-noir set in L.A. where a man from South Africa, Jacob King (Chadwick Boseman) shows up to find his sister he hasn’t heard from lately, and gets involved in the seedy underworld that took her down – before following that chain up to bigger, richer fish. The film is directed by Fabrice du Welz, and the thing looks fantastic, and has a great cast – and yet, du Welz seems a little too in love with the films style to keep the damn thing moving at a pace something like this needs to be great, The film kind of feels like it wants to be a twist on Paul Schrader’s Hardcore (1979) – but without doing the heavy lifting that films does to establish everything. The whole thing is a bit of a mess – although an entertaining one.
If there is a reason to see the film, it’s to see Chadwick Boseman is a terrific performance as King. He is a commanding screen presence, and he pretty much carries the opening scenes, where not a lot is happening, on his back by doing very little. He will eventually spring into action – using a bike chain to take down a group of Eastern European baddies at a car wash of all things – and when he does, it is glorious, although by that point, it almost feels like it’s part of a different movie (one where his character could convincing say the title of the film, and mean it).
The films plot is basically King seemingly coming to the end of the underworld that destroyed his sister, and then discovering another level, higher up, but more depraved. It’s how he meets a high priced dentist (Luke Evans) and a movie producer (Alfred Molina) with peculiar tastes. It’s also how he learns just how far his sister had sunk during her time in L.A. – while she is clearly a victim, you could hardly call her innocent.
The film looks great to be sure, and I loved Boseman in the lead role. There are narrative strands that make little sense – no matter how much I like her, I don’t think the film needs Teresa Palmer as King’s neighbor/single mother/sometime prostitute/object to be saved in the film at all (let alone her daughter). I did, sort of, admire the films willingness to not tie everything up in a neat package, or pretend that given the level of depravity involved, that everyone will get a happy ending. And the film held my interest from beginning to end. But the film just never quite finds its level – stuck somewhere between trashy exploitation thriller and its higher impulses, it doesn’t quite manage to do either all that well.

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