All the King's Men

I've never entirely bought Robert Rossen's celebrated 1949 movie adaptation of the Robert Penn Warren novel about a fictionalized Huey Long, but at least it has a coherent shape. This airless, scaled-down version by Steven Zaillian (Searching for Bobby Fischer) has a credible lead performance by Sean Penn and a handsome mannerist look that suggests an almost diagrammatic sense of dramatic abstraction. Yet the unfocused story is so bereft of any clear sense of period or location that the political melodrama sometimes seems to be taking place inside a cigar box. With Jude Law (adrift), Kate Winslet, James Gandolfini, Mark Ruffalo, Patricia Clarkson, and Anthony Hopkins. PG-13, 120 min.

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