Posted by: daveed | July 10, 2008

Meeting on the level

John Huston’s The Man Who Would Be King is one of the few films that’s both culturally and esoterically entertaining.

On the surface a fantastic story, with superb performances from Sean Connery and Michael Caine, tastefully devoid of Hollywood over-production. If they were to make this today (highly unlikely for any Kipling story) it would have to have more skin, more gore, and less talking. Oh and some sort of massive explosion or two. And directed by hacks like the Wachowski Brothers or Michael Bay. (Roland Emmerich gets a pass here because even though his films are crap, I believe he earnestly tries to make good ones. He just fails nearly every time, poor chap.)

The smart Masonic references throughout, which give the story it’s color and wry tone, would’ve been unceremoniously expunged on the first round. But Huston retains much of Kipling’s sentiment from the latter’s short story, with an emphasis on brotherly regard, humility and redemption.

It’s also a much more thoughtful film than one might think, and it nearly turns the whole British Empire-mythos on its ear. Peachy and Dravot, low-born chaps that they are, are supposed to merely nibble at fringes of Empire while the Great Game gets underway. But mercenary opportunity and a serendipitous collusion with history turns fortune to their favor.

Exalted beyond their station based one one critical lie, one of them hubristically reaches for godhood, only to be sent crashing back down to Earth. Empire-building always has its limits. And although while in their time thieves might become kings, they could never be gods.

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