Opening 4 Jan 2007
Wally Stark (Sean Penn) is a simple travelling salesman for the Fuller brush company until he is set up to run for public office. He breaks from his handlers to pursue his own populist platform promising schools, jobs, and streets for everyone because God is on his side. He reaches the hearts of the hick voters who flock to his speeches at factories, wharfs, and farms throughout the state. He becomes governor in the biggest win in state history and is a powerful man, who soon succumbs to the adage, “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” He resorts to criminal activity to avoid an impeachment by conservative senators. Journalist Jack Burden (Jude Law) tells the story and in flashbacks, we also learn about Jack: his wealthy boyhood, Judge Irwin (Sir Anthony Hopkins) who raised him, his best friend Adam (Mark Ruffalo) and his love for Adam’s sister Anne (Kate Winslet). In the end, figuratively speaking, the swamp rises from the bayou to suffocate all it touches.
There is much to praise in this film taken from Robert Penn Warren’s 1946 Pulitzer-prize-winning book, which is based on the life of Huey B. Long (1893-1935), former governor of Louisiana, USA. Anyone familiar with this state will love the original locations in New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Algiers, Donaldsonville, Morgan City, and Bayou and Cajun country, as well as the art deco state capitol and other real landmarks like plantations, Spanish moss, and jazz clubs. Although the original story played in the 1930s, director Steven Zaillian has moved it to the 1950s, with vintage cars, trains, and costumes. However the universal story about corruption, love, hate, and betrayal could play in any decade. All the actors have been expertly cast and it’s interesting to watch British actors such as Law, Winslet, and Hopkins convince as southern types. (Becky Tan)