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By Daniel Lammin
8th July 2012

Great Australian movies are so few and far between these days that a new film by one of our most respected and acclaimed directors is cause enough to pay attention. Rolf de Heer made a name for himself with such classics as ‘Bad Boy Bubby’ (1993) and ‘Ten Canoes’ (2006), and after nearly five years, he returns with ‘The King is Dead’ on both writing and directing duties. With such an impressive list of Australian classics under his belt, it’s not a far stretch to anticipate that he has spent his time preparing another for us, and a much needed boost to the Australian film scene this year.

Max and Therese (Dan Wyllie and Bojana Novakovic) move into a charming new house in an Adelaide suburb. On one side are an eccentric and lovely married couple with a young daughter, whom they instantly establish a connection with. On the other side, however, is ‘King’ (Gary Waddell), the neighbour from hell. Keeping them up at night with loud music and fighting, with a gang of delinquents hanging around, King makes the street unsafe, especially for his neighbours. With the police unable to do anything and the entire street powerless to stop the chaos, Max and Therese decide to take matters in their own hands. They just have to be creative about it.


Rolf de Heer has tackled suburban nightmares before with his stunning ‘Alexandra’s Project’ (2003), so it’s safe to assume that this is familiar and assured territory for him. In this case, though, that assumption seems to be wrong. ‘The King is Dead’ comes across as a severely undercooked film - a series of disparate ingredients that just don’t come together as a whole. The screenplay is terribly self-conscious, devoid of character and texture, weighed down by awkward sections of tedious and unnecessary exposition. The narrative is structured around attempt-after-attempt to get King out of the way, held together on a weak skeleton. It also moves much too slowly, surprising at just over an hour and a half. The narrative lumbers along with plodding editing and flat cinematography. de Heer has always had a great ability to make the screen shudder with life, even in the most bland of settings, but here, he seems to be colouring-by-numbers.

The performances don’t seem to fare well either. Wyllie and Novakovic have proven themselves terrific in the past, but here, their cardboard characters don’t give them much scope to play. Thankfully, they both have enough dorky charm to make their parts bearable, as opposed to their sketchily drawn neighbours. Waddell spends most of the film looking dumb and confused - perhaps an attempt to make him more pathetic, even sympathetic, but he just comes across as weak. Luke Ford and Anthony Hayes are completely wasted as King’s mates, their drugged-out layabouts achingly stereotypical, as if they were constructed by observing these kinds of people from a safe distance.

‘The King is Dead’ can’t seem to decide what kind of film it is. It swings wildly between slapstick comedy and intense urban drama.

The biggest problem, however, is that ‘The King is Dead’ can’t seem to decide what kind of film it is. It swings wildly between slapstick comedy and intense urban drama, never hitting either style with confidence. You're never sure how you're supposed to feel about these characters or their predicament, and the muddled and unrealistic ending doesn’t make things any clearer. I couldn’t shake the feeling that de Heer had gotten himself into an uncomfortable corner with this film, and just didn’t know how to back himself out of it. If it had driven forward as an out-and-out comedy, the fact that he doesn’t make his reasons for this film know might have worked, but by not settling on a style, whatever you were supposed to take away from the film is very unclear.

So has de Heer delivered another classic? Far from it. ‘The King is Dead’ is an inconsequential film that won’t leave any kind of lasting impression other than wondering what the point was to begin with. If this were the debut of a young up-and-comer, its short-fallings might be forgivable, but not from an acclaimed director like de Heer. This 'King' hasn't got much of a throne.

RELEASE DATE: 12/07/2012
CAST: Daniel Wyllie
Bojana Novaković
Gary Waddell
DIRECTOR: Rolf De Heer
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