Tuesday, September 17, 2013

KING OF THE HILL (1993) - Steven Soderbergh

A unwatched DVD of King of the Hill has been sitting in one of my movie flipbooks for about a decade. A streaming HD copy has been sitting in my Netflix queue for half as long. Why did it take me so long to get to either? I guess I was never in the mood for a Depression-era coming of age story, even if directed by Soderbergh. I assumed the film would be something of a '90s indie era Oliver Twist.

I wasn't too far off the mark. King of the Hill is a charming period piece about a scrappy adolescent. He's not exactly a street urchin, though he lives in a rundown hotel that looks like the Earle in Barton Fink. He's definitely full-latchkey, in that his father (Jeroen Krabbe) is away for work and his mother in the local sanitarium. He lies about his meager living situation to school friends, steals stale dinner rolls where he can find them, dreams of a brighter tomorrow and breeds canaries.

In this early effort (only two films after Sex, Lies), Soderbergh still seems to be working out his style, which arguably can vary from film to film as it is. There are a few canted angles that are off-putting and seem like leftovers from his previous film, Kafka, where the skewed lens trick was far more apropos. The amber color palette also brings to mind earlier Spike Lee, and there are more than a few sweat-beaded foreheads to be found. There is some fun cameo-spotting to be had. Is that Karen Allen from Raiders? Elizabeth McGovern from everything else in the '80s? Is that a very young Katherine Heigl as the pre-teen love interest? Is that a pre-Fugees, pre-incarceration Lauryn Hill as the elevator operator? Yes to all of those questions. And, no, I probably won't be watching King of the Hill again.

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