Netflix’s The King is a reverse Hobbit: instead of adapting one book into three movies, it adapts three plays into one film. Shorn of Shakespearean dialogue, this loose retelling of Henry IV, Parts 1 & 2 and Henry V gets by on character and plot. Timothée Chalamet brings a brooding intensity to the Henry V role, which sees him following in the footsteps of classically trained luminaries like Sir Laurence Olivier and Sir Kenneth Branagh. That he can hold his own as a screen presence, even in comparison to thespians such as those, bodes well for his starring role in next year’s Dune.

The King also reunites director David Michôd with Joel Edgerton and Ben Mendolsohn, two actors who broke out internationally after appearing in Michôd’s 2010 Australian crime drama, Animal Kingdom. Edgerton serves as Michôd’s co-writer here, just as he did for the 2014 dystopian outback Western, The Rover, starring Guy Pearce. Michôd brings back Robert Pattinson from that movie; like Chalamet, Pattinson is no stranger to heartthrob status, and he’s set to headline a future tentpole (just a little movie called The Batman).

The King arrives in a post-Game of Thrones landscape where at-home audiences have become inured to watching court intrigue play out in medieval settings. Yet its source material predates Game of Thrones by centuries. Writer George R.R. Martin drew from the same period of history as Shakespeare’s Henriad, the cycle of plays that this movie partially adapts. Among other things, The King depicts the muddy hell of the Battle of Agincourt, the original inspiration for the Battle of the Bastards. This may not be Westeros, but war is still bloody and mud underfoot is an apt symbol for the innocence-to-experience arc that Chalamet’s conflicted prince undergoes as he dons his father’s crown and enters the moral quagmire of adulthood.

Read More »

For much of his career, Brad Pitt has eschewed the path of the traditional leading man. A recent Buzzfeed article pegged Pitt as “a character actor trapped in a movie star’s body.” If you look back at his filmography, there’s a clear pattern of Pitt playing off other actors as a kind of co-lead or ensemble head. This summer, he did it with Leonardo DiCaprio in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. However, this pattern dates back at least twenty-five years, to when Pitt emerged as a full-fledged marquee name alongside Tom Cruise in Interview with the Vampire.

In Ad Astra, Pitt plays Roy McBride, an astronaut whose pulse rate never rises above 80 beats per minute. His journey to far-flung Neptune’s orbit to hopefully find his father and potentially stop an Earth-threatening antimatter surge positions itself as Apocalypse Now in space. Helmed by James Gray, Ad Astra is something of an anomaly, both in Pitt’s oeuvre and in the current blockbuster landscape. It’s a mid-budget movie based on an original idea, not an existing media property, and it doesn’t have a box office friendly director (like Pitt’s last collaborator, Quentin Tarantino) attached to it.

Seeing a film of that nature open the same day in theaters around the world is refreshing, but it does place a burden of expectation on Ad Astra, as its occasionally heavy-handed script peddles thoughtfulness with thrills in an event movie marketplace. The film’s title, which it never explains, is the Latin phrase for “to the stars.” Audiences no longer look to movie stars as reliable brands in and of themselves. Here, Pitt is on his own in a way he’s seldom been in his career. He can hold the screen, but can he elevate our heart rates?

To discuss that, we’ll be rocketing straight into spoiler territory in 3, 2, 1…

Read More »