Aaron Kurlander (Jesse Bradford) is reading out his assignment to his class, and he's written it about his good friend the pliot Charles Lindbergh, not that Lindy is his friend, but that's the impression he creatively thought up for the essay. His teacher (Karen Allen) is impressed, and so, he is surprised to notice, is classmate Christina (Katherine Heigl) who offers him an admiring look as he sits back down. Aaron has quite an imagination, which comes in useful when he has to hide the poverty of his family from everyone else, and though he wouldn't readily admit it, he's not sure how long they can continue in their rundown hotel room...
After director Steven Soderbergh had an unexpected indie hit with Sex, Lives and Videotape, the cinema world was his oyster, so he opted to make Kafka, a strange, rather arch fantasy based around placing the author Franz Kafka in the nightmare world of his own writings. Naturally, something that off the wall was not going to find much favour with the general audience, but it didn't win many friends critically either, so his next film could be viewed as a retreat to prestige cinema with an adaptation of a respected memoir, one by American author A.E. Hotchner set around his impoverished childhood during the Depression.
Hotchner went on to be a successful writer, and though Soderbergh, drawing up the script adaptation himself, didn't mention that in the film, it was nevertheless interesting to chart Aaron's experiences here and see how they would have given him the fuel and material to bring about his career. On the surface King of the Hill - nothing to do with Mike Judge's long-running cartoon sitcom - had a warm, nostalgic glow and many took it at face value, regarding it as one of those sepia-tinted works which basked in the good old days. However, there was more to it than that, so that while you could understand the wheeling on of the colourful characters could be rather cute, that wasn't the whole story.
Look past that gloss and you would find an existence fraught with peril, not quite as colourful as Tom Sawyer's perhaps, it was more grounded in the everyday than that so there were no boy sleuth adventures in this case, but simply through the way everyone in Aaron's life abandons him. It starts with his younger brother Sullivan (Cameron Boyd) sent away to live with relatives because his parents, German father Jeroen Krabbé and mother Lisa Eichhorn, cannot afford to keep him anymore, and as if this is representative of someone dislodging a pile of logs by taking out the one at the bottom, soon the other characters are falling away from Aaron, leaving him increasingly solitary and having to live on his wits.
Which sees the boy in such difficult positions as attending his graduation, where he has done so well in his schoolwork that he is awarded top prize, only to have his proudest day ruined when his fibs catch up with him as his classmates put the stories he has told them about his circumstances together and realise they don't add up. Back at the hotel, his mother is in a sanatorium and his father has left him alone since he is a travelling salesman, so Aaron has no idea whether he'll see either of them again. Even the folks he knows are being whittled down around him as the summer sweat which sheens the characters begins to look like the perspiration of desperation: from the creepy but actually tragic Spalding Gray to Aaron's best friend, the older boy Adrien Brody who helps him out in getting what he needs or the epileptic girl Amber Benson who is even more lonely than he is, they all succumb eventually. Though there is a resolution, King of the Hill was pointedly not nostalgic American heritage cinema. Music by Cliff Martinez.
Versatile American writer, director and producer whose Sex Lies and Videotape made a big splash at Cannes (and its title has become a cliche). There followed an interesting variety of small films: Kafka, King of the Hill, noir remake The Underneath, Schizopolis (which co-starred his ex-wife) and Gray's Anatomy.
Then came Out of Sight, a smart thriller which was successful enough to propel Soderbergh into the big league with The Limey, Erin Brockovich, Oscar-winning Traffic and classy remake Ocean's 11. When Full Frontal and his Solaris remake flopped, he made a sequel to Ocean's 11 called Ocean's 12, material he returned to with Ocean's 13. Che Guevara biopics, virus thriller Contagion and beat 'em up Haywire were next, with the director claiming he would retire after medication thriller Side Effects and Liberace biopic Behind the Candelabra. He returned after a period of even greater activity with heist flick Logan Lucky and his first horror, Unsane.