The King, directed and co-written by David Michôd of Animal Kingdom fame, was one of my most anticipated movies of 2019. Set during the 15th century, it chronicles the rise of King Henry V of England and the eventual battle of Azincourt. I’ve been saying for years that the medieval epic should make a comeback and it seems they slowly but surely, they are at Netflix, with the release of this movie and The Outlaw King this time last year. Thanks to the cast, writers and setting, I was expecting a return to form for the genre. Unfortunately, The King doesn’t quite stick the landing.
The movie stars Timothée Chalamet as Henry V, who starts the first act of the film as a grumpy, surly drunk with serious daddy issues. His father, the King (played by the great Ben Mendelssohn), openly hates his eldest son and refuses the crown to him, something Henry is perfectly content with. He’d rather spend his time at the tavern with his buddy Sir John (Joel Edgerton, who co-wrote the script with Michôd). Of course, this is a movie and you know the title so this way of living isn’t meant to last and Henry assumes the crown and eventually sets his eyes on the ever insolent France, who see the new King as nothing but a boy.
Let’s start off with what the movie gets right. It looks amazing. Not just the cinematography either, but the costumes, props and sets. Those full armour pieces look heavy, imposing and brutal. Shots are memorable, including the opening scene and a shot of Henry’s forces arriving at a French town on a hill with the navy off in the distance. Battles are ruthless, more wrestling and desperation that swinging a sword around gracefully. One aspect where the movie stumbled though is the decision to desaturate nearly the whole movie, making things feel flat.
The performances are quite good as well, with Chalamet being a notable standout as the brooding monarch along with Mission: Impossible’s Sean Harris. Not fairing so well is Robert Pattinson as the Prince of France. Yes, Pattinson sports a French accent and it’s, well, distractingly bad-especially when the film hires French actors to play French roles. Lily-Rose Depp has scenes in French and she excels with the language. On the topic of language, Michôd and Edgerton have written an elegant and timely update of Shakespeare’s plays, making it accessible while also being of a higher vocabulary.
So the film looks good, has good acting, a good script-what’s wrong with it? The main problem is the pacing; it’s rough. It’s not so bad for the first thirty minutes or so but quickly becomes a drag. There is a lot of dialogue in this movie and the pacing doesn’t help with the actors speaking in hushed voices or meticulously. I wanted the movie to explode with tension, to illustrate the urgency of getting to France. Instead, it often felt like a medieval board meeting. Not that what they weren’t saying wasn’t interesting, but it did feel like some edits to speed it up and get to the point faster could’ve worked. This is a two and a half hour movie and it feels like three hours. Combine that with the desaturated look and overall absent score and it can be a bit of a slog, like the muddy battle in the movie.
All in all, The King isn’t a bad movie but like Outlaw King, isn’t amazing either. For those who love historical epics, I’d say give this one a go as there’s enjoyment to be had for sure, but otherwise, you may find the pacing detrimental to your enjoyment of the movie. And all in all, that sums up Netflix’s ambitions in film thus far: good but not great. Here’s hoping The Irishman delivers later this month.