King of the Hill B+
Soderbergh's third outing, King of the Hill (1993), an adaptation of A.E. Hotchner's Depression memoir of his childhood in St. Louis, was a return to form, though few people saw it. When the finances of the Kurlanders (played by Jeroen Krabbe and Lisa Eichhorn) reach their limit, they send their younger son, Sullivan, to live with relatives.
Mrs. Kurlander's poor health deteriorates, she is sent to a sanitarium, and her salesman husband leave town for a job. This coming-of-age story revolves around a bright 12-year-old Aaron Kurlander (Jesse Bradford), who perseveres in the face of danger. Aaron is left alone in a spooky transient hotel that evokes Southern Gothic tradition. With plenty of time in his hands, the ever-curious boy observes with fascination the strange people around him, soon finding himself entangled in their adventures.
As a survival study of a kid who relies on his intuition and smarts, Aaron recalls the young protagonists of Mark Twain and Charles Dickens. The movie was intended as a tribute to the resilient, indomitable spirit of many Jews who have fallen on hard times. An assured, well-acted film, King of the Hill displayed Soderbergh's penchant for realistic portraiture of intimate dramas, but it is less effective in creating an authentically Jewish milieu.
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