'œWhat a botch,' said Joe Morgenstern in The Wall Street Journal. Rarely does a film squander talent so profligately. We know that writer-director Steven Zaillian is no hack because he made the terrific Searching for Bobby Fischer. And the film's cast includes such A-listers as Sean Penn, Jude Law, Anthony Hopkins, and Kate Winslet. Yet this new adaptation of Robert Penn Warren's Pulitzer Prize'“winning 1946 novel is a meaningless mÃ©lange of preposterous accents and period-piece clichÃ©s. The flaw lies in the two lead performances, said Peter Rainer in The Christian Science Monitor. Penn plays Willie Stark, the demagogic politician based on Louisiana Gov. Huey Long, with scenery-chewing vigor. But we mostly see him 'œconnive and exhort and flail his arms' while addressing faceless crowds. Law, as Stark's chief political operative, takes up more screen time with an even less-well-defined character. Zaillian can't decide whose story to tell, said Steven Rea in The Philadelphia Inquirer. The redneck who rides a populist wave to the statehouse and the patrician ex-newspaperman strangely drawn to power are both great roles. But cutting between them so relentlessly confuses the viewer, and makes an already melodramatic film seem like a soap opera. All the King's Men desperately wants to be an epic political allegory, but it's just a 'œgiant bowl of bayou baloney.'