davidehrlich’s review published on Letterboxd:
A large-budget, medieval war movie that’s loosely based on Shakespeare’s “Henriad” and the historical events that inspired those plays, David Michôd’s “The King” is so eager to be a mud-and-guts epic about inherited violence and the corruption of power that it loses sight of the rich coming-of-age story at its core. It’s hard for a good man to be king, and it’s even harder for a king to be a good man — that idea only feels relevant to the modern world because it’s been true for every one of the last 600 years, and “The King” has nothing especially new or insightful to say on the subject.
What “The King” does have is Timothée Chalamet as a soft prince who would rather sleep in his bed than sit on the throne, and Robert Pattinson (if only for three scenes) as a hilariously sociopathic dauphin who looks like Klaus Kinski and talks like a castrated Pepé Le Pew. It has “Leave No Trace” star Thomasin McKenzie in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it role as the Queen of Denmark, and a razor-sharp Lily-Rose Depp looking so much like Vanessa Paradis it’s hard to tell if she’s her daughter or her deepfake. And yet despite this stacked deck of generational talents, the film would rather turgidly rehash its most basic themes than allow these actors to work through them; it would rather make broad gestures toward the notion that personal agendas shape political history than offer an intimate take on how it must feel for someone to lose themselves in that process.
Michôd and co-writer Joel Edgerton take some necessary liberties with the source material in terms of both language and content — the changes to Falstaff, who Edgerton plays with bruised wistfulness and boisterous warmth, are particularly inspired — but the center doesn’t hold when they try to consolidate this multi-generational saga and splash it across a massive canvas at the same time. It’s as if they weren’t paying attention when fellow Australian Baz Luhrmann taught the world his greatest lesson: It’s hard to improve on the Bard, but if you’ve somehow managed to score Venice Beach, pre-“Titanic” Leonardo DiCaprio, and the rights to Radiohead’s “Talk Show Host,” then you should milk them for everything they’re worth.