×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

King of the Hill

"King of the Hill" has all the rich satisfactions of a fine novel. This densely detailed, superbly acted evocation of a resourceful boy's life during the depths of the Depression animates another time and place, while quietly underlining the parallels to contemporary problems and struggles.

With:
Aaron Kurlander - Jesse Bradford Mr. Kurlander - Jeroen Krabbe Mrs. Kurlander - Lisa Eichhorn Miss Mathey - Karen Allen Mr. Mungo - Spalding Gray Lydia - Elizabeth McGovern Ben - Joseph Chrest Lester - Adrien Brody Sullivan - Cameron Boyd Billy Thompson - Chris Samples Christina Sebastian - Katherine Heigl Ella - Amber Benson Patrolman Burns - John McConnell Mr. Desot - Ron Vawter Mr. Sandoz - John Durbin Arletta - Lauryn Hill Front Desk Clerk - David Jensen

King of the Hill” has all the rich satisfactions of a fine novel. A marvelous comeback for writer-director Steven Soderbergh after his problematic sophomore effort, “Kafka,” this densely detailed, superbly acted evocation of a resourceful boy’s life during the depths of the Depression animates another time and place, while quietly underlining the parallels to contemporary problems and struggles. Film’s qualities will please specialized, sophisticated viewers more than the general public, but careful marketing could generate an audience for it.

It only takes Soderbergh a few minutes to establish that he is working on all cylinders, as he asserts a feeling of total authority over his material in deftly etched scenes that illuminate the imaginative world of his young protagonist and define the desperate straits of his characters. This is a bracingly intelligent film about an intelligent kid, as well as a study of the strengths and frailties of families.

Drawing upon A.E. Hotchner’s autobiographical 1972 book about his St. Louis childhood, Soderbergh creates a vibrant picture of the Middle American social fabric while maintaining sharp focus on the changing fortunes of 12-year-old Aaron Kurlander (Jesse Bradford), whose family unit is disintegrating as the tale begins.

Living in the seedy Empire Hotel in a working-class part of town, the Kurlanders find themselves forced to send away the younger son, Sullivan (Cameron Boyd), to live with a relative in order to save money, and consumptive mom (Lisa Eichhorn) shortly needs to repair to a sanitarium.

While Mr. Kurlander (Jeroen Krabbe) scrapes by, awaiting word of a good job, Aaron excels at school and becomes involved in the lives of some of the down-and-outers at the hotel. As most of his classmates are privileged, upper-class kids, Aaron defensively begins inventing tall tales about his family , which gives him a mysterious reputation.

By contrast, his neighbors at the hotel have an assortment of problems that force Aaron to a more mature reading of the world. Ella (Amber Benson) is a nervous, bespectacled girl suffering from epilepsy. Mr. Mungo (Spalding Gray) is a formerly wealthy alcoholic who eases his pain with prostie Lydia (Elizabeth McGovern). The grungy bellboy (Joseph Chrest) keeps an eagle eye on everyone.

At film’s midpoint, Mr. Kurlander gets a position as a traveling salesman, which leaves Aaron alone at the Empire without financial resources. Winning the top award for achievement at school does nothing to alleviate his problems at the hotel.

Slowly, however, the splintered family begins pulling back together, leaving the story with an upbeat ending still tempered by the picture of life’s severity that comprises the bulk of the picture.

Soderbergh’s approach is shot through with an appreciation for the value of both school learning and street smarts, as well as an unsentimental nostalgia for a time when there was a belief that anything was possible in America. Although times were much tougher in the depths of the Depression than they are now, the spirit on display is more energetic and hopeful than it seems to be today, and the lack of cynicism in the face of such adversity is refreshing.

Down to the smallest roles, such as the young black woman who runs the hotel elevator, the tyrannical street cop who runs the neighborhood and the rich girl who takes an interest in Aaron, all the characters are indelibly drawn, resulting in a brilliant gallery of types from all society levels.

But despite all its excellences, the film wouldn’t work nearly so well without Jesse Bradford. His Aaron is exceedingly well spoken, a sort of exemplar of the limitless potential that can exist in children before they are damaged, limited or brought down. As a boy increasingly forced to apply his creativity to his life rather than his imaginative world, Bradford simply gives one of the best pre-teen performances in memory.

Entire ensemble cast is first-rate. Along with those already mentioned, Adrien Brody is especially notable as a young Jewish fellow who helps Aaron through some of his more difficult jams.

St. Louis, with its brick streets, vast turn-of-the-century mansions and remnants of industrial-revolution America, is splendidly used to evoke a particular aspect of the nation’s history. Working on a relatively modest budget for such an ambitious period piece, production designer Gary Frutkoff, costume designer Susan Lyall and lenser Elliot Davis have made outstanding contributions. Soderbergh himself edited adroitly and tightly, while Cliff Martinez’s score is lively.

King of the Hill

Production: A Gramercy release of a Wildwood/Bona Fide production. Produced by Albert Berger, Barbara Maltby, Ron Yerxa. Executive producer, John Hardy. Directed, written by Steven Soderbergh, based on the memoir by A.E. Hotchner.

Crew: Camera (Deluxe color; Filmhouse prints; Panavision widescreen), Elliot Davis; editor, Soderbergh; music, Cliff Martinez; production design, Gary Frutkoff; art direction, Bill Rea; set design, Erik Olson; costume design, Susan Lyall; sound (Dolby), Larry Blake; assistant director, Gregory Jacobs; casting, Deborah Aquila. Reviewed at the Aidakoff screening room, Beverly Hills, May 6, 1993. (In Cannes Film Festival -- competing.) MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 102 min.

With: Aaron Kurlander - Jesse Bradford Mr. Kurlander - Jeroen Krabbe Mrs. Kurlander - Lisa Eichhorn Miss Mathey - Karen Allen Mr. Mungo - Spalding Gray Lydia - Elizabeth McGovern Ben - Joseph Chrest Lester - Adrien Brody Sullivan - Cameron Boyd Billy Thompson - Chris Samples Christina Sebastian - Katherine Heigl Ella - Amber Benson Patrolman Burns - John McConnell Mr. Desot - Ron Vawter Mr. Sandoz - John Durbin Arletta - Lauryn Hill Front Desk Clerk - David Jensen

More Film

  • Actress Shirley MacLaine poses at the

    Shirley MacLaine Selected for AARP Career Achievement Award

    Shirley MacLaine has been selected as the recipient of the AARP’s 2018 Movies for Grownups Career Achievement Award. MacLaine will be honored at the 18th annual Movies for Grownups Awards ceremony on Feb. 4 at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills, Calif. MacLaine has credits on more than 50 feature films, won a best [...]

  • 'Where'd You Go, Bernadette' Trailer: Cate

    Cate Blanchett Disappears in 'Where’d You Go, Bernadette' First Trailer

    Cate Blanchett goes missing in the first trailer for Richard Linklater’s latest film, “Where’d You Go, Bernadette.” Based on Maria Semple’s 2012 novel, “Where’d You Go, Bernadette” follows agoraphobic architect Bernadette Fox (Blanchett), who disappears just before a family trip to Antarctica. “Something unexpected has come up,” Blanchett’s character says on the phone. “It has much [...]

  • Rachel Weisz and Olivia Colman in

    'The Favourite' Leads London Critics' Circle Nominations

    Yorgos Lanthimos’ dark historical comedy “The Favourite” lived up to its title with the London Film Critics’ Circle on Tuesday, nabbing 10 awards nominations from the group – twice as many as its nearest rivals. Alfonso Cuarón’s “Roma,” Lynne Ramsay’s “You Were Never Really Here,” Rupert Everett’s “The Happy Prince” and Pawel Pawlikowski’s European Film [...]

  • Picture Tree Intl. Rolls Out Pre-Sales

    Berlin: Picture Tree Intl. Rolls Out Pre-Sales on B.O. Hit ‘100 Things’ (EXCLUSIVE)

    MADRID — In the long run-up to February’s Berlin Festival, Picture Tree Intl. has rolled out multiple pre-sales on “100 Things,” which Warner Bros. Pictures bowed in Germany on Dec. 6 to a robust first eight-day €2.7 million ($3.07 million). “100 Things” will receive a market screening at the Berlinale’s European Film Market. The third [...]

  • Mid 90s

    Jonah Hill's 'mid90s,' Pauline Kael Documentary to Screen in Berlin's Panorama Section

    Jonah Hill’s directorial debut, “mid90s,” about a 13-year-old skateboarder’s coming of age, and a documentary on influential film critic Pauline Kael are among the works that will screen in the Panorama section of the upcoming Berlin Film Festival. Films starring Tilda Swinton and Jamie Bell and titles from countries including Israel, Brazil and Japan were [...]

  • 'Your Name' Director Makoto Shinkai Readies

    ‘Your Name' Director Makoto Shinkai Readies 'Weathering'

    Three years after the animation “Your Name” began its long triumphant reign over the Japanese and international box office, its director Makoto Shinkai has announced his next animated feature. Titled “Weathering With You,” the film will arrive in theaters in Japan on July 19 of next year, with Toho distributing. Set in a world where [...]

  • Berlin: The Match Factory Boards New

    Berlin: The Match Factory Boards Competition Titles From Fatih Akin, Emin Alper (EXCLUSIVE)

    German indie powerhouse The Match Factory will handle world sales on two Berlin Film Festival competition titles: German director Fatih Akin’s serial-killer chiller “The Golden Glove” and Turkish director Emin Alper’s family drama “A Tale of Three Sisters.”  Akin, a Hamburg native whose “Head-On” won the Golden Bear in 2004, is returning to the Berlinale [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content