Originally release in 1978 as a made-for-television mini series, King remains a remarkable achievement, not only as product of television, but as a biopic that manages to not fall victim of the many trappings of the genre. Spanning twelve years in the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (Paul Winfield), the film covers the meeting of his future wife Coretta (Cicely Tyson) through to his assassination in 1968. Like all biopics, King touches primarily on the bigger events of the Civil Rights leader's life—his leadership during the Selma bus boycott, his meetings with presidents, the march on Washington that culminated with his "I Have a Dream" speech. But with a running time of over four hours, the film is at least given the opportunity to breathe, and as abbreviated as the individual moments may be, it flows with a solid pace and enough substance that it works. Even if Kingwere made for the big screen on with a larger budget, I don't think it could have been done any better than it was.
Written and directed by Abby Mann, Kingstands out as an edgy and comprehensive film, despite being confined to made-for-television status. Mann, who already had a well-established career as a provocative writer, and who actually began working with Dr. King on the script before the leader was murdered, does not shy away from topics like King's rumored indiscretions, or the FBI's efforts to destroy him.
Paul Winfield gives what is easily one of the best performances of his career as Martin Luther King. With a person as complex and charismatic as King, it would be easy for him to appear in the film as series of cliches pasted together from images already locked into the public consciousness. But with Mann's script serving as the foundation, Winfield is able to transform himself into a dimensional character with depth and complexity. He is surrounded by a cast of capable actors that includes Tyson, Ernie Hudson, Ossie Davis and Dick Anthony Williams in a scene-stealing cameo as Malcolm X, but it is upon the shoulders of Winfield that the weight of the movie rests, and through his performance that it finds its success.
Kingis presented in full frame. The image quality varies from scene to scene, ranging for good to terrible. There are some scenes that appear to have a ghost image at times, and some that even appear out of focus.
Kingis presented in Dolby Digital mono, and the sound mix is a bit low.
Bonus features on the third Kingdisc includes four documentary featurettes. "In Conversation with Tony Bennett and Abby Mann" features the famed entertainer and the writer-director of Kingdiscussing their relationship with the Martin Luther King, and their involvement with Civil Rights. Both "The Struggle" and "The Civil Rights Movement" rely primarily on interview footage with actor Ossie Davis, who appears in King as the father of Martin Luther King, and who was also very active in the Civil Rights movement. "Recreating History: The Making of King" is not quite as behind-the-scenes as one might hope, but at the same time informative and moving. Abby Mann talks about working with Martin Luther King, and how it was the success of Kojacthat allowed him to make a film he had been working on for over a decade.
David Walker is the creator of BadAzz MoFo, a nationally published film critic, and the Writer/Director of Black Santa's Revenge with Ken Foree now on DVD [Buy it now]