|KING OF THE HILL
(director/writer: Steven Soderbergh; screenwriter: based
on the memoir by A. E. Hotchner; cinematographer:
Elliot Davis; editor: Steven Soderbergh;
music: Cliff Martinez; cast: Jesse Bradford (Aaron
Kurlander), Karen Allen (Miss
Mathey), Jeroen Krabbe (Mr.
Eric Kurlander), Lisa Eichhorn (Mrs.
Kurlander), Spalding Gray (Mr.
Mungo), Elizabeth McGovern (Lydia),
Adrien Brody (Lester), Cameron Boyd
(Sullivan), Joseph Chrest (Ben), Chris
Samples (Billy Thompson), Katherine Heigl
(Christina Sebastian), Amber Benson (Ella
McShane), John McConnell (Patrolman
Burns), John Durbin (Mr. Sandoz),
Lauryn Hill (Elevator Operator);
Runtime: 103; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Barbara
Maltby/Albert Berger/Ron Yerxa; Gramercy Pictures; 1993)
"Tenderly directed and written by Steven Soderbergh."
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
gentle coming-of-age Depression-era film is tenderly
directed and written by Steven Soderbergh ("Sex, Lies
and Videotape"/"Kafka"/"The Limey"). It's based
on the 1972 memoir by A. E. Hotchner. The positive
film nevertheless struck me as too cutesy, too lacking
of an edge and too sentimental to get a true depiction
of the working-class during the Depression.
Louis, in 1933, the bright, handsome and likable twelve-year-old Aaron Kurlander
(Jesse Bradford) lives
in a dumpy transient hotel with his German immigrant
wickless candle salesman father (Jeroen
Krabbe), his loving ill mother (Lisa Eichhorn)
and his playful younger brother Sullivan (Cameron
Boyd). Though poor, Aaron impresses with
his rich imagination, ability at marbles and with his
guile when telling whoppers in class to his
kindly eight-grade teacher Miss Mathey (Karen
Allen) and his self-satisfied wealthy
classmates. Aaron attends a top-level public school
out of his neighborhood because his devious father
allows the kid to falsify his address.
Great Depression breaks the family apart, as Sullivan
is sent to Iowa to live with his uncle. Mom has a
relapse of her TB and returns for a long stay at the
sanitarium. Meanwhile dad has little choice but to
accept an out-of-town job by going on the road selling
watches. The resourceful Aaron learns to take care of
himself and gets some legal and illegal help from his
streetwise heart-of-gold teenage neighbor Lester
(Adrien Brody). Some of Aaron's wealthy classmates and
struggling colorful neighbors help the kid survive
until his parents and brother return, and again the
family reunites to weather the terrible economic
storm. The beat cop (John McConnell) is
depicted as a cartoonish bully, always going after
vulnerable children. While the bully bellhop Ben (Joseph
Chrest) is depicted as a lackey for the hotel
management, who places in storage the possessions of
those who don't pay the hotel bill and shows them no
respect when evicting them.
It's a warm-hearted but safe film about the trials of a middle-class family coping with poverty during the Depression, that still to its credit shows the dark side of the Depression that upset the fabric of Middle American society. The winning performance by Jesse Bradford sticks out, and gives this earnest family drama an appealing uplift and a healthy dose of needed comedy.
REVIEWED ON 7/22/2012 GRADE: B-
Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"
© ALL RIGHTS RESERVED DENNIS SCHWARTZ