A Netflix film about King Henry V -- not the Shakespeare version, though it's certainly equally as speculative. Timothée Chalamet stars as Hal, who reluctantly takes the throne after Henry IV dies and Hal's brother who wants the throne (and Hal wants him to have it too) is killed in battle. The film then speculates on the reason why Hal decides to conquer France. And it's an interesting plot in the end, though I couldn't say whether it's based on truth. I expect not.
|Directed by David Michôd (The Rover, Animal Kingdom), co-written with Joel Edgerton.|
Any film about Henry V would be boring if it weren't speculative and even this one toes the line. But before I turn you off from it accidentally, I have to say I'm writing this review because I enjoyed it much more than I was expecting to. It's a flawed movie, but my ultimate goal here is to recommend it. With that noted, its main flaw from my perspective is a severe lack of personality. You almost don't notice all the great things that happen because the film has either no idea or no intention of serving them up in a cinematic, dramatic storytelling way.
Maybe it was trying to be subtle. It was certainly trying to be subdued, with its lingering shots on expressionless faces and dulled color palate. But more it seemed like it didn't know where to put the dramatic emphasis. Early in the movie there's a slow-mo section of Prince Hal and his degenerate bar friends getting drunk and laughing. The scene is played up and accompanied by dramatic music, but there was no emotional weight within that scene that would benefit from the enhancement. Later, moments that do carry emotional weight and could have used a stylistic pick-me-up are comparatively breezed by and left less effective.
|Every time a character dropped an F-bomb it completely threw me back into the modern world. That may have been the biggest flaw of all.|
Now, this is a flaw that could render the film boring to casual viewers, but if you're interested in getting a good story out of this, it is there. You just have to pay a little closer attention because the film isn't going to serves the highs and lows properly. The characters are the highlight. Chalamet underplays Hal in a way that works with the movie's dulled and subtle tone, giving enough detail to the performance that the character isn't lost. And he is written well, which is most important. Joel Edgerton is back in form with his endearing portrayal of Falstaff. And the other characters that weave in and out fill out the tapestry nicely. Ben Mendelsohn, Dean-Charles Chapman, Sean Harris, Robert Pattinson, Tom Glynn-Carney, Lily-Rose Depp, and Thomasin McKenzie all bring their brief characters to life.
The secondary problem is that the narrative has little structure. A flaw that can be traced back to lack of emotional rise and fall, and the brief interludes of characters. They are too brief, populating the story for moments, then fading away without having accomplished anything relevant to an overarching story, as good as their individual scenes may be. I quite liked Thomasin McKenzie as Hal's sister; but can't figure why the movie thought her a necessary or relevant inclusion. Once the end is reached you can see a trace of structure looking back, but in the thick of it the story seemed nothing more than a collection of irrelevant scenes and neat vignettes.
|At 2 hours and 20 mins, you need to be able to dive in and appreciate that it takes its time, or else you'll just be counting down the minutes until it's over.|
The best of these moments were the battles. They were few are far between but were built up to and executed shockingly well. The one-on-one combat had a scrappy and unchoreographed feel to it that I appreciated, and the main battle against the French was planned and set up fascinatingly. The siege, though brief, looked incredible; in general, the effects and staging were of impressively high quality. If I had to recommend this film for only one reason it, would be the combat, though it takes up perhaps 20% of the film at best. The rest is lackadaisical-but-good character drama and emotionless-but-dedicated building to the fights.
Of Netflix-distributed products these days, it's far easier to do worse than The King than it is to do better.