A stream-of-consciousness style slice-of-life saga, King of Herrings seems to exist in its own world, halfway between the experimental stage and avant-garde screen.
And this is perhaps fitting given that it was initially conceived as an acting exercise in screenwriting by its writer and co-director Eddie Jemison who wound up developing the script into a feature endeavor and film festival hit.
Heading up the cast of character actors in purposely (and rather aggressively) against-type roles, the frequent Soderbergh star electrifies the black-and-white screen in his volatile turn as Ditch, the amoral anchor of this moody personality vs. plot-driven work.
Whether he's rebuffing the principle of repaying a nine dollar debt to questioning others on life, loyalty and what he perceives to be a battle of the sexes (of his own making), Ditch is just one of the self-loathing, swaggering Kings raging less against the machine than perhaps the dying of their own light.
Drawing upon everyone from David Mamet and Eugene O'Neill to William Shakespeare and Sam Shephard, the largely misanthropic and ultimately misguided larger-than-life men who propel the mercurial chamber piece from start to finish excel at making much ado about nothing.
The stuff of angry Bebop, while a freewheeling Beat Generation inspired Howl of a movie is hard to pull off, Jemison and his co-director Sean Richardson mostly succeed, only hitting a false note when they interrupt the improvisational sounding give-and-take riffs between the cast of characters to interject an unnaturally atonal plot point here and there.
And although the fiery King of Herrings can be a little hard to digest at times ― cutting to the quick in places like a Faces era John Cassavetes ― all the male bravado in the world can't sway us like the emotional authenticity and vulnerability of its quietly powerful female lead.
A cross between a tragic Tennessee Williams heroine and Nora from Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll's House, although the character played by Laura Lamson walks softly from the beginning, much like Herrings, she sneaks up on you by the final frame.
A film that honors and wears its far-reaching influences proudly in each frame like a fusion of past and present that reflects the attitudes and world views of its core ensemble, while it falters a bit, Kings still manages to hold us in its thrall when ― rather than telling us what to think ― it trusts its nothings to become somethings that make us truly feel.
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