Netflix UK film review: Message from the King
Ivan Radford | On 06, Aug 2017Reading time: 3 mins
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 only reason he’s named 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, make a phone call or just check his WhatsApp more often to make sure she’s alright, Jacob goes for the other response: he starts walking about beating people up.
It goes without saying that there are endless people to beat up, as Bianca turns out to be involved in 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 our own 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, but not entirely satisfying.
That’s the main problem with Message for the King: it’s more 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 that he wants to achieve more than that. The script, from Unknown’s Oliver Butcher and Stephen Cornwell, doesn’t even give much depth to its protagonist – save for a fledgling relationship with a token hooker-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, 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, thanks to Boseman’s stripped-down charisma. It’s just a shame that not knowing much about him, or his sister, prevents us from fulling rooting for the guy.
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 police, as a minority. But even there, the film ends up disappointingly short, instead spending time exploring outdated cliches of Molina’s closet homosexual as a deviant and pervert. Evans’ dentist, meanwhile, is lumbered with 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 violence. What is the King’s message? We never really find out. But if it’s telling the world that Boseman is ready to be an action star, that’s a message worth sending.
Message from the King is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.