Review by Gene
I took to Netflix again to seek out an independent or little-known film for my review this week. While scrolling through some suggested films, I came across King of the Hill. A 1993 Steven Soderbergh film which, as I understand it, was his first opportunity with major studio money. Knowing the rest of Soderbergh’s filmography and his knack for delivery a unique film with lots of depth, I came away thinking King of the Hill was a pretty safe story.
Aaron (Jesse Bradford) is a young teen living in depression-era St. Louis with his family. Aaron’s family, like most others at the time, are struggling mightily. Aaron’s father has promises of a better future if he can just get the right sales job. But it’s been nothing but empty promises for a long time. They’re living on borrowed time in a small hotel room. Aaron and his younger brother, Sullivan, witness their classmates losing their rooms due to non-payment. They see their friends move away in hope to find work. To the films credit, the events and surroundings are shown, but it’s missing a sense of depth and desperation that the era certainly called for.
Of particular note was the demeanor of Aaron’s father. He seemed strangely detached from the true needs of his family. And not detached in a way that he’s trying to escape from the trials of the time. More like he’s only interested in his own ventures. The decision is made to send Sullivan away to an uncle in order to save money on food, but it seems like not a hard decision at all by the father. Just something that needs to be done, absent of an emotional attachment from the father. Later, Aaron’s father takes a traveling sales job that means leaving Aaron utterly alone to fend for himself for who knows how long. No hug, no handshake, not even an “I love you” when saying goodbye. This adds to an overall sense that these events really aren’t all that dangerous, everyone will be fine, it’s not that hard. I have to believe this glossed over impression isn’t what Soderbergh was going for. While there aren’t a lot of bad or poorly done parts of the film, it does seem to largely miss a type of grit that it needed to get me really invested in this story.
One big takeaway from the film is the value of perseverance. Aaron is a very likeable kid. He’s smart, has a knack for storytelling even to the point of outlandish lies he tells his classmates about the whereabouts of his parents. He seems drawn to people who want to help him but he doesn’t seek handouts. He tries to help other people and never seems to become discouraged despite the awful circumstances he was in. This is a trait that Christians should have as well. Think about it: We have a hope for eternal life in the presence of the creator of the universe! If we can hold that in view of any struggles we encounter in this life, we should find it as inspiration to persevere through anything.
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. -Romans 8:37-39
God’s love is with us even if food, money and good fortune are not. We should be mindful not to let any hard times we fall on also cause us to fall away from God. His love is always there for us.
My Rating: 3/5
This isn’t a bad film, but there’s nothing particularly great about it either. If I could sum it up in a word, that word would be: regular. Even though we seen Aaron starving and scared, the film never relays the feeling that he won’t be just fine by the end. And again, that isn’t a bad thing, but because of that I was never fully on board with any despair, suffering or anger as I felt I should have been.