Monday, September 25, 2006

An Unwarranted Disclaimer

I have been known, from time to time, to call All The King's Men by Robert Penn Warren my favorite book of all time.  If it's not, it's certainly in the mix.  So it was with great trepidation that I approached the recent film inspired by said novel.  In the past, some of my favorite books have been made into great movies (Lord of the Rings) and not so great (I, Robot).  I have also been disappointed by very good movies because I had previously read the book, which was better (Jurassic Park).  This particular adaptation has met with tremendously bad reviews (11% positive at

Well, I didn't think it was that bad.  It did, however, feel like a Reader's Digest version of the book.  Warren's novel is incredibly dense (and I mean that in the best possible way).  The previous (Oscar winning) adaptation handled this by focusing almost entirely on the political aspects of the story.  This one tried to cram most everything into just over two hours, so a lot of the scenes lacked the resonance and impact that they should have had.

But I'm not really hear to review the film.  Instead, I want to take issue with something that I noticed in the ending credits.

At the end of the movie, after all the actors' and crew's names had rolled by, there was the fairly standard disclaimer that "The characters and events in this film are fictitious. Any similarity with real people and events is mere coincidence ".  You'll see that phrase or something similar at the end of most movies.

Only, this time, it is not at all true.

All The King's Men is most definitely and purposefully based on the life of Huey P. Long, former governor of Louisiana.  I wrote a term paper for my Great Books II class about just how closely Warren used Long's life as a model for his novel.  If you read a biography of Long, be prepared to have many of the events of the film (or novel) spoiled for you.

I know they use that disclaimer for legal purposes, so that they can't be sued by someone claiming the movie was based on their life.  But I still find it amusing that they would use it in this case where it certainly is not true.


Anonymous Kim said...

So, the movie actually isn't that bad? The reviews made me write it off as crap. I mean, Rolling Stone said it was "overthought, overwrought and thuddingly underwhelming".

But yeah.....weird disclaimer. I've seen movies that were only loosely based on real events get away with saying they were based on or inspired by a true story.

9/27/2006 04:12:00 PM  
Blogger wiley said...

Actually overthought, overwrought and underwhelming isn't a bad description.

I think that, as a such fan of the book, I was so amazed that I wasn't offended by radical changes (because there weren't any), that I was more forgiving of its shortcomings. Some of the reviews that I read criticized things that came straight from the book, so those things didn't bother me.

Looking back with a few more days perspective, I will say this. Sean Penn was terrific. But the movie was under-written and over-directed. It wasn't as bad as advertized, but I still wouldn't call it good.

9/28/2006 06:30:00 PM  

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