Saturday, February 7, 2009

King of the Hill

King of the Hill; Drama, USA, 1993; D: Steven Soderbergh, S: Jesse Bradford, Jeroen Krabbé, Lisa Eichhorn, Karen Allen, Elizabeth McGovern, Spalding Grey, Katherine Heigl, Adrien Brody

USA in the 1930's is struck by economic crisis. The young Aaron is reading essays full of lies in the school and always wins in a marble game, but also lives in deep poverty: father Eric has difficulties selling candles, the mother is suffering from tuberculosis in the hospital while they live in a hotel with so much debts that they might land on the street any moment. Eric sends his younger child Sullivan to his uncle, which leaves Aaron very lonely. His only friend is a young lad, Lester. When Eric leaves for a business trip, Aaron stays all by himself. He tries to earn as a porter, a caddy or a canary seller, until Eric comes home and tells him he got a great job so they move to their own house.

Steven Soderbergh, before his great comeback with "Traffic" in 2000's, was crossed out by Hollywood in the 90s when he made mostly unnoticed films, one of which stands out with ease, the excellent drama "King of the Hill" with a sharp social critique. Though, one shouldn't mix it up with Mike Judge's TV comedy show with the same title. In this film, every character is poor, but the main protagonist Aaron, in impressive performance by the then 14-year old Jesse Bradford, is optimistic and wonderfully intelligent kid who manages in almost every situation, and even goes to work despite the fact that he is a minor. Among the great sequences is also the one where he steals the confiscated goods and returns them to their owners together with Lester, equipped with smalltalk ("Don't even mention it. No really, don't mention it at all!") or when he writes a letter for his father whose words can be heard reading it in the background. Soderbergh directs the film in an astoundingly simple and effective way, and one can only wonder why it was forgotten with time.


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