Fifteen minutes into The King, I realized I was probably watching one of the best films I'd see all year. That resolution didn't quite hold up—The King squanders a bit of its potential with a final act that doesn't quite click—but regardless, it's still one of the most riveting, intense, and disquieting films in recent memory.
That's largely due to two of the film's actors, William Hurt and Gael García Bernal—the brilliant Hurt has been impressing for decades, while Bernal's promising career is just beginning. Bernal plays Elvis, a young man fresh out of the Navy. Heading to Corpus Christi, Texas, he tracks down someone he's never met: his father, David Sandow (Hurt). But David is now a pastor, and he callously blows off Elvis' hopeful gestures, claiming he fathered Elvis "before I became a Christian." Content, David retreats back to his family and his routine—unaware that the single-minded, fervent Elvis can't let things go so easily.
I'm not going to synopsize any more than that, because The King's extraordinary, prickly plot deserves to play out on its own unique terms—whether it's with a silent shot of a brooding Elvis, or a fire-and-brimstone scene with the mutton-chopped David preaching. "Get right with God," he warns. "Be prepared to meet Him." Excellent performances from Paul Dano and Pell James—as David's daughter and son—are also central, and James Marsh's script and subtle direction expertly captures the stark, singular beauty of the American West. But ultimately, this is Bernal and Hurt's picture, and a fine one at that: A story that's weird and dark and sad, enacted with performances that are nothing short of profound.