King of the Hill
R2 - United Kingdom - Fabulous Films
Review written by and copyright: Matthew Crossman (23rd December 2015).
The Film

Twelve year old Aaron Kurlander lives with his Father , his Mother and his Brother Sullivan in a run down hotel during the great depression in 1930 in St Louis. His family are so destitute that his parents take the very difficult decision to send Sullivan away to live with the boy’s Uncle, thereby saving themselves a dollar a week. Aaron is determined to earn some money to help his family and pay for the return of Sullivan to the family. Matters take a turn for the worst when his Mother’s illness returns and she is forced to go into a sanatorium for at least a month or two. Aaron’s Father has been applying for work and finally lands a position as a watch salesman but unfortunately the area where he must ply his trade is not in Missouri. Desperate for money and the job Aaron’s Father leaves Aaron living alone in the dilapidated hotel. Alone and with little to no money Aaron must now not only survive but must also find a way to reunite his family.

‘King of the Hill’ was the second time Steven Soderbergh had directed his own screenplay, the first being ‘Sex, Lies, and Videotape’. One of the things that struck me most about ‘King of the Hill’ is how likeable nearly all the characters are despite some awful circumstances. No more so than Aaron, played by Jesse Bradford, who is a star turn and the centre of the film. What Soderbergh skilfully does is show the day to day horrors of life during the great depression in simple, almost off the cuff, ways. An overhead conversation between two neighbours is actually a women prostituting herself to her more wealthy neighbour. We see Aaron preparing soup for himself and his Father which is no more that tomato ketchup with added water. His Father so engaged in his job application to the watch makers he that he does not notice and wonders how his Son has prepared such a delightful soup. These little glimpses into the life of Aaron puts his predicament into perspective without shoving it down the viewers throats. If anything Soderbergh actually overkills the nostalgic look of the film making it almost a nostalgic look of the time. The colour palette of the movie is a warm one, with everything bathed in warm hues of yellow and brown, detracting, I felt, from the actual struggle of the people whose story it was telling. Dropped into the narrative are stories of a young girl living a few doors from Aaron who collapses and has a fit. When she eventually comes around she apologises and tells Aaron that the fits are very infrequent when they have the money for the medicine. It’s a simple scene but it tells much about the characters and their predicament and at times it’s quite heart breaking. ‘King of the Hill’ was nominated for the Palme d’Or upon it’s release in 1993 but was not to win, unlike Soderbergh’s earlier ‘Sex, Lies, and Videotape’ which won in 1989. Soderbergh would, of course go on to win an Oscar who his film ‘Traffic’ in 2000 but in my opinion this film is as strong as anything he has ever directed. The cast is terrific throughout. As well as great turns from Adrian Brody, Jeroen Krabbe (as Aaron’s Father) and Elizabeth McGovern there are excellent cameos from Karen Allen (Raiders of the Lost Ark) and Lauryn Hill of The Fugees. Soderbergh’s direction and script are perfectly balanced and I applaud Fabulous Films for re-releasing the film on DVD where, hopefully, it will attain a brand new audience which might just appreciate the movie for what it is.

Video

The film is presented in an anamorphic aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and it is very good. As mentioned earlier it has a rich, warm palette, almost sepia in tone. The image is sharp throughout but if I was being overly picky I would say that the blacks could be a little deeper. The greens of the trees and the grass provide a nice contrast to the dark yellows and the browns and everything is presented in an accurate manner befitting a film such as this.

Audio

The main soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 4.0. The rear information is presented in discrete monophonic and is rarely used. 90% of the soundtrack is through the front three speakers. Dialogue is, in general, quite clear yet there are some instances, especially in sequences set in the halls of the hotel, where dialogue is drowned out by the echo of footsteps and doors closing. The film is available in various dubs (Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround). These are French, German, Italian, Castellano Spanish and Russian. Subtitles are also available in a variety of languages. These are English (SDH/HoH), French, German, Italian, Castellano Spanish, Czech, Danish, Finnish, Greek, Hungarian, Norwegian, Polish and Swedish.

Extras

There are no extras present on the disc.

Overall

An overlooked gem from one of cinema’s more recent great directors and screenwriters. A strong cast are ably supported by a witty and, often, depressing, script. The direction is top notch and looked like a real labour of love for Soderbergh. Despite critical rave reviews I suspect most people will not have heard of ‘King of the Hill’ and that is a real shame. Soderbergh doesn’t flinch from showing the real desperation that people went through during the great depression of the 1930’s but he does not revel in it either. It’s a fairly subtle film with it’s heart in the right place and pretty much everyone involved is on top of their game. Recommended.

The Film: A Video: B+ Audio: B Extras: F Overall: B+

 


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