Elvis Valderez (Gael Garcia Bernal: Amorres Perros, The Motorcycle Diaries), has recently been discharged from the Navy and at 21 years old, he has no family, no home to go back to, and no idea of what he's going to do with himself. However, the one thing he does know is that he's going to Corpus Christi to find the father he never knew. The only things Elvis knows about his father are from the sparse details provided by his mother. Elvis seems to be a nice, sweet young man, and you immediately like him, and hopes that he finds his father, and will be greeted with open arms. Of course, if that is what happened, this would be the end of the movie and this review.
Obviously, the movie and the review go on to find Elvis arriving in the Lone Star state where he happens upon, or so it seems, a close-knit church, led by Pastor David Sandow (William Hurt). The good minister is a devout God-fearing Christian and his equally dedicated and seemingly perfect family is as wholesome as the white bread in bread-boxes across America. Pastor Sandow's "Get Right With God" philosophy is the cardinal focal point of his ministry. As soon as he enters the House of God he meets Malerie (Pell James), a cute teenage lass to whom he is instantly attracted. She, however, turns out to be the pastor's daughter and she directs him to the sanctuary to attend the services. He takes a pew as the pastor's son Paul (Paul Dano: Little Miss Sunshine) serenades the congregation with christian rock music, much to the dismay of his father. After services, Elvis follows the minister and his family to their home, where he tells Sandow that he is the man's secret love child, a product of an affair with Elvis' deceased prostitute mother. Sandow makes clear Elvis is to stay away from his family, home, and his church, as his family and congregation know nothing of his checkered past. Things between them appear to end there, but the situation is far from over.
Elvis begins to surreptitiously insert himself into the family in a sick way -- by courting and dating his half sister Malerie, who is unaware of the kinship. Despite knowing that this is wrong, he escalates the incestuous affair to a physical level, all the while keeping her in the dark of their consanguinuity. When the relationship is eventually discovered by Sandow, the situation goes from freaky to precarious.
The King moves at a smooth pace and avoids becoming stagnant or boring. The movie doesn't immediately let on exactly how it is going to go. You don't know if it's going to be a tear jerker or a Greek tragedy, and it doesn't give itself away too early. The audience really doesn't know what Elvis' plans are but you know he's planning to become part of the family, one way or another.
Gael Bernal brings off the furtive Elvis easily with his good looks and slick tone. Not much of a back story is provided on the wayward son, and what he does reveal to others is not really the truth, thus his character remains largely a mystery. This works out well, as knowing too much about his character would somehow lessen the impact of his actions.
Williams Hurt's usual low-key style proves to be an asset for this film by projecting the spiritual, moral, and emotional conflict experienced by the good minster who's deeply buried skeletons are itching to come out of the closet.
By looking at the movie's poster, you really wouldn't guess that the film's subject matter was so dour. I personally thought it was going to be about some kid tying to make a life as an Elvis impersonator. This couldn't be further from the case.
I enjoyed the movie. While the "secret love child comes to find his long lost father" storyline is far from original, the means to which Elvis goes to achieve his ends are certainly not formulaic. The King shows us that "getting right" with God, Allah, Buddah, or even Harry Potter takes more that just Communion, Confession, and Penance. It takes getting right with one's self first.
Czarina's First Date Rating: I rate this movie B; which means if I saw it on a first date I would*:
* Czarina does not give blow jobs on the first date... (often).
Czarina's Captious Compliment of Caustic Comment: The King gets right with Czarina.
All Hail The Czarina
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