I know this is going to sound simplistic and lazy, but there's really no better way to say it: All the King's Men is a horrible film. That statement is wholly accurate, fairly descriptive, and damn near irrefutable.
In fact, that point is so incontrovertible that I can't picture anyone arguing it—even Sean Penn, and that guy argues about everything. Here, Penn plays Willie Stark, an imaginary governor in 1930s Louisiana (based on Huey Long); fast-talkin' and passionate, Stark gets elected by hicks, then uses immoral means to achieve (ostensibly) moral ends. Meanwhile, a preppy Jude Law plays a reporter-turned-sycophant, Kate Winslet shows up as a sex object/love interest, Anthony Hopkins, Mark Ruffalo, and Patricia Clarkson loiter around, and James Gandolfini has exactly one great scene before he fades into the background for the next two hours.
Along with a bunch of lesser works, Steven Zaillian wrote Schindler's List; here, in adapting/directing Robert Penn Warren's Pulitzer-winning novel, he doesn't know what he's doing. Zaillian's method largely consists of combining trite histrionics, formulaic visuals, laughable music, and Penn's scenery-chomping—and by combining these old chestnuts, he's created something that's little more than shameless, tedious, paint-by-numbers Oscar bait. Seriously, can we just get rid of the Academy Awards already? Does anybody even like them? Especially when all they lead to is stuff like this?