Power corrupts the soul apparently and it's clearly too much to handle for prolific screenwriter Steven Zaillian. In addition to writing, he gets to call the shots on this adaptation of the cautionary novel by Robert Penn Warren, chronicling the rise and fall of a small-town politician (played by a very shouty Sean Penn). Unfortunately with so many interweaving subplots and secrets to juggle, the story rapidly becomes as impenetrable as a speech by Donald Rumsfeld.
It's no surprise that Willie Stark (Penn) is elected Governor of Louisiana. Seen through the eyes of his closest aide Jack (Jude Law), he's a man brimming with Southern charm and idealism. However, once in office, the desire to stay there leads to shady dealings. Anthony Hopkins is the judge who threatens to bring Stark down and it's just unfortunate that he also happens to be Jack's surrogate father...
"NO SENSE OF ANYTHING AT STAKE"
Instead of exploring the ties that bind the three men, Zaillian blurs focus and allows Jack to drift into idle meditations about the way things were and might have been - especially regarding his 'innocent' love for a society girl (Kate Winslet). Then, when he returns to the real plot, skeletons come tumbling out of the closet and fall flat because there is no real sense of anything at stake. Vital backstory has to be explained in dry, dialogue-heavy scenes and in between, Penn gives impassioned speeches underscored by orchestral swellings yet fails to hit a single high note. It's a typical politician's tale - all talk and no action.