I've just had 140 minutes wasted by film director David Michôd, so I don't have the time or patience for being humble right now. Here comes some honesty.
I am an intelligent person. I did well in school and while I am hardly a William Shakespeare scholar, I am familiar with (and I enjoy) The Bard's work. I've watched close adaptations by Olivier and Branagh, I've seen "inspired by" films like Akira Kurosawa's Throne of Blood and lighter fare like 10 Things I Hate About You. I've seen plays with big-name talent (F. Murray Abraham in King Lear at the Public Theater) and shoestring productions (Macbeth without sets, props or period clothes literally under a bridge in Queens, New York; it was terrific) and, as audiences throughout the ages will attest, few things can hold you in its thrall like Shakespeare done right. I couldn't connect with The King. I don't mean it didn't touch me or move me, I mean I couldn't even pay attention. I was zoned-out for 97 percent of this thing and I honestly don't think it was my fault. Michôd and his partner-in-crime, co-writer and co-star Joel Edgerton, have put a unique spin on Shakespeare: incompetence.
The King is a compression of three Shakespeare works, Henry IV Part 1, Henry IV Part 2 and Henry V. There's cinematic precedence for this, with Orson Welles' Chimes at Midnight, but other than the source material the comparisons end there. Shakespeare's language is gone and it has been replaced by xeroxed Game of Thrones-speak. There's no humor, no sex and, other than one beheading and a quickie battle scene, there's no action. Falstaff (played by Edgerton) isn't even overweight! The St. Crispin's Day speech has been reduced to the slight-framed Timothée Chalamet yelling, "Make It England!" like a twerp at a comic book store shouting, "Make Mine Marvel!"
About Chalamet, who was marvelous in Call Me By Your Name and very amusing in Lady Bird: Michôd and his distribution partners at Netflix are surely counting on Chalamet's legion of extremely online devotees to make The King something of a GIFfable success. But one can hardly tweet "sksksksks" if one is asleep. And Michôd's work here is a suitable substitute for Ambien. Plus, Chalamet is woefully out of his element here. At first, "Prince Hal" is supposed to be the lusty, wayward son of Ben Mendelsohn's Henry IV. The devilish depravity is represented by a quick shot of some dancing and Timothée smooching a blonde. Opportunity wasted.
Hal doesn't want the throne, as he's a lover, not a fighter, but when Destiny gets in the way he's suddenly an expert in hand-to-hand combat. After his father's death, Hal tries to sway England away from war, dismissing the Archbishop's suggestion of an Imperial march toward the Holy Land. But then that pesky French King sends an assassin his way, and onward we move to arms!
At this point, the movie continues at a slow, mopey, whisper-quiet pace for what feels like an eternity. Watching at home via Netflix this afforded me an opportunity to think about the list of looming chores. The laundry, the groceries, some invoices I needed to send, some phone calls I needed to make. Nothing emanating from my television screen could distract me from these thoughts until the 74-minute mark. That's when Robert Pattinson in an Allman Brothers wig showed up.
As if strolling in from a different and better movie, Pattinson is Lewis, the Dauphin, a French baddie with an accent straight out of John Cleese's character from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Sadly, he's only in two scenes. Edgerton's Falstaff, who is supposed to bring some crackle to the proceedings, just melds into the background of the many English advisors. His death, meant to bring great sadness, is mostly a welcome indicator that the movie is wrapping up.
The interior sets and chain mail all look pretty good, so from a visual point of view, The King isn't a total whiff. I am simply baffled to think that anyone looked at this project and said: "yes, this is what we want to put out into the world." There are a lot of great things to watch on Netflix, even olde-timey British stuff. Sorry to the Chalamet stans, but this ain't it.
TV Guide Rating: 1/5
The King is out now on Netflix.