Netflix UK film review: Message from the King
Ivan Radford | On 06, Aug 2017
Director: Fabrice Du Welz
Cast: Chadwick Boseman, Teresa Palmer, Luke Evans, Alfred Molina
Watch Message from the King online in the UK: Netflix UK
“Tell him this was a message from the king,” says Jacob King (Boseman), right after beating up the henchman of an unknown villain. It’s a cruel, cool moment, the kind of moment that you expect from a stylish revenge thriller – and an hour and a half later, you suspect that’s exactly why he says it. It might even be the main reason his surname’s King in the first place.
Jacob has just arrived in Los Angeles, a flying visit so that he can find out what’s happened to his sister, Bianca (Sibongile Mlambo), whom he hasn’t heard from in a while. Rather than send a postcard or make a phone call to make sure she’s alright, Jacob goes for the other response: he goes on a hard-hitting hunt.
It goes without saying that there are endless people to beat up, as Bianca turns out to be involved with some very shady types. And it also goes without saying that those shady types are connected all the way up the social chain to a corrupt Hollywood producer type, played with some relish by Alfred Molina. He’s connected, in turn, to a dodgy dentist, played with even more relish by Luke Evans. While it’s fun to see both having such a good time in their roles – particularly Evans, who recently delivered star-making turns in High-Rise and Beauty and the Beast – there’s little more to their characters than that. Their eventual confrontations with Jacob, then, are entertaining, if not entirely satisfying.
That’s the only weakness of Message from the King: it’s a case of style over substance. Belgian director Fabrice Du Welz, making his English-language debut, does a solid job of navigating LA’s seedy underbelly, with a grim aesthetic that suits the neo-noir vibe, but there’s never a sense of ambition beyond that. The script, from Unknown’s Oliver Butcher and Stephen Cornwell, is a straightforward affair, only giving mild depth to its protagonist – save for a fledgling relationship with a token sex worker with a heart of gold, played by Teresa Palmer.
It’s a relief, then, that our antihero is Chadwick Boseman. The actor, who’s about reprise his role as Black Panther in his own standalone Marvel film, seizes the chance to prove his physical chops once and for all, switching between handsome and dangerous at the flip of a coin – and that unpredictable transformation is unsettling and brutal to watch. His fists-first, asks-questions-later approach matches the script perfectly, and Chadwick Boseman’s charisma shines through every confrontation.
There are hints of something with deeper potential. Du Welz’s outsider perspective echoes Jacob’s experience of the city, with nods to the way that he’s treated by the prejudiced police. But even there, the film ends up falling short, spending more time exploring outdated cliches about Molina’s villain. Evans’ dentist, meanwhile, gets to deliver a climactic monologue that ends with the timeless words “you can tell a lot about a man from his teeth”. Whenever Boseman is on screen, though, it’s easy to forgive the shallow screenplay and go with the grubby entertainment. What is the King’s message? We never really find out. But if it’s telling the world that Boseman is about to be a major action star, it’s a message worth sending.
Message from the King is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £9.99 monthly subscription.