Message from the King ** ½ / *****
Directed by: Fabrice du Welz.
Written by: Oliver Butcher & Stephen Cornwell.
Starring: Chadwick Boseman (Jacob King), Teresa Palmer (Kelly), Luke Evans (Wentworth), Alfred Molina (Preston), Tom Felton (Frankie), Jake Weary (Bill), Natalie Martinez (Trish), Dale Dickey (Mrs. Lazlo), Chris Mulkey (Leary), Ava Kolker (Boot), James Jordan (Scott), Amin El Gamal (Martine), Arthur Darbinyan (Duc), Diego Josef (Armand), Lucan Melkonian (Zico).
Message from the King is the kind of film that keeps you entertained from beginning to end, but never really gets you involved in it. You never really get invested in the story, because somehow the film just doesn’t quite connect on the level it should. This is a straight up revenge thriller – a neo-noir set in L.A. where a man from South Africa, Jacob King (Chadwick Boseman) shows up to find his sister he hasn’t heard from lately, and gets involved in the seedy underworld that took her down – before following that chain up to bigger, richer fish. The film is directed by Fabrice du Welz, and the thing looks fantastic, and has a great cast – and yet, du Welz seems a little too in love with the films style to keep the damn thing moving at a pace something like this needs to be great, The film kind of feels like it wants to be a twist on Paul Schrader’s Hardcore (1979) – but without doing the heavy lifting that films does to establish everything. The whole thing is a bit of a mess – although an entertaining one.
If there is a reason to see the film, it’s to see Chadwick Boseman is a terrific performance as King. He is a commanding screen presence, and he pretty much carries the opening scenes, where not a lot is happening, on his back by doing very little. He will eventually spring into action – using a bike chain to take down a group of Eastern European baddies at a car wash of all things – and when he does, it is glorious, although by that point, it almost feels like it’s part of a different movie (one where his character could convincing say the title of the film, and mean it).
The films plot is basically King seemingly coming to the end of the underworld that destroyed his sister, and then discovering another level, higher up, but more depraved. It’s how he meets a high priced dentist (Luke Evans) and a movie producer (Alfred Molina) with peculiar tastes. It’s also how he learns just how far his sister had sunk during her time in L.A. – while she is clearly a victim, you could hardly call her innocent.