Message from the King (2016)

  • Time: 102 min
  • Genre: Thriller
  • Director: Fabrice Du Welz
  • Cast: Chadwick Boseman, Teresa Palmer, Luke Evans


After suddenly losing all contact with his younger sister, Jacob King arrives in Los Angeles determined to track her down. Trying to piece together her last known movements, King finds unsettling evidence of a life gone off the rails – drugs, sex and secrets in the sleazy underbelly of the City of Angels. Undeterred by warnings to go home, King proves to more than a match for the violence he is confronted with as he relentlessly pursues the truth about what happened to his sister.


  • His name is King, but it may as well be Carter or Walker for like those protagonists in Get Carter and Point Blank, he is a man on a mission and that mission is revenge.

    “I have no intention of working or staying,” he tells the customs officers who wonder why this South African has come for a five-day stay in the City of Angels. Indeed, Jacob King has just arrived in Los Angeles with nothing but 600 dollars in his pocket and a blinkered determination to find estranged sister Bianca (Sibongile Mlambo), who recently left a worrying call for him. Checking into a cheap motel where he encounters Kelly (Teresa Palmer), who works as a prostitute in order to support herself and her young daughter, King immediately goes to work to solve the mystery of his sister’s disappearance.

    It doesn’t take King very long to discover that his sister got herself involved with some shady characters, including a husband who was a low-level drug dealer, a group of Eastern European thugs, a suave yet sinister dentist (Luke Evans), and a Hollywood producer (Alfred Molina) with decidedly unsavoury predilections and who happens to have Bianca’s young stepson in his custody. With the exception of Bianca’s husband, who one character surmises is probably lying in a ditch somewhere, all the characters are soon unsettled by King’s doggedness in uncovering their dirty little secrets as well as his prowess with a bicycle chain, the latter of which is well-demonstrated in several brutal fight scenes.

    Message from the King works very much like a procedural – King questions someone, gleans some information which leads him to the next person which starts the cycle all over again – yet never feels by-the-numbers. There’s a sly, insisting quality to the film that’s echoed in Vincent Cahay and Felix Penny’s score. Cinematographer Monica Lenczewska’s compositions recalls the stylish seediness of films like the aforementioned Get Carter and Point Blank as well as neo-noirs like Chinatown, Hardcore, and To Live and Die in L.A.

    More than anything, the entire affair is held together by Boseman, who continues to demonstrate why he is one of the most commanding and magnetic actors working today. The commonality shared by his performances in 42 (where he portrayed Jackie Robinson), Get On Up (where he channelled James Brown), and Captain America: Civil War (where he embodies the Black Panther) is his ability to hold one’s attention without ever seeking it. As King, he is quietly but cataclysmically fearsome, so single-minded in his task that not even Balkan gangsters or an attractive woman grinding against him will distract him from the purpose at hand. He may be a man of few words, but one knows well enough not to mess with the King.

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  • “It’s Bianca. She’s got a brother. He’s in town, says he has what we’ve been looking for. He’s out of control, Mike. You told me Bianca was not a problem anymore. Bianca isn’t a problem anymore. I’m afraid that’s his problem.”

    Those who imagine the Los Angeles metropolis to be idealistically beautiful, they should adjust that view after watching “Message from the King”. The less beautiful part of Los Angeles is used here. An impoverished neighborhood where the vast majority of residents live in poverty and where crime and drugs are an obvious part of society. Ash gray ghettos full of human suffering. And that’s being emphasized by drizzly weather. The crowded mortuary is a reflection of these fading slums. A collection of nobodies who died because of an overdose, madness (drowned in a bathtub as an imaginary fish) and gang violence.

    This is what Jacob King (Chadwick Boseman) faces when he arrives in L.A. The reason why he’s staying in the city of angels is the sudden disappearance of his younger sister Bianca (Sibongile Mlambo). Soon he discovers the sore situation his sister got herself into and what it did to her : she earned a spot in the mortuary with a name tag on her big toe. The search for the murderers of his younger sister brings him in touch with all kind of figures. Trish (Natalie Martinez) the loyal neighbor points him in the right direction after which he meets a violent gang of Balkan criminals run by a certain Zico (Lucan Melkonian). Then there’s the rich dentist Wentworth (Luke Evans) and the wealthy movie producer Preston (Alfred Molina). And let me tell you. Some of them are getting to know the bicycle chain he just bought, in a less pleasant way.

    For Jacob, these L.A. neighborhoods probably still look like charming neighborhoods compared to where he comes from. His sister Bianca, his deceased brother Isaac and Jacob himself, lived the largest part of their life in South Africa in the Cape Flat townships, a sandy area south of Cape Town and better known as “Apartheid’s dumping ground”. A dilapidated community where gangs rule. Both in the slums and in prison. Such as “The Number Gangs”. Isaac was a member of this notorious gang, until his death. Reason enough for Bianca to turn her back on her home country and to seek salvation in the United States.

    You could say this movie is a cheaper version of “The Equalizer” with Boseman having an equal personality as Denzel Washington. A cold-blooded but alert person who has control over his violent eruptions and who accurately follows the traces to solve the criminal puzzle in the end. However, the ultimate motive remains quite mysterious. Perhaps the only minus I could find in this hard-core, ultra-dark movie. In fact, it’s an ordinary revenge film that differs slightly from others because of its quirky atmosphere and tone. And afterwards I discovered the film was directed by a fellow countryman : Fabrice du Welz. Maybe that’s why this movie displays a kind of willfulness.

    Even though this action-flick is soaked by cliché elements (corrupt policemen, a cunning politician and a prostitute (Teresa “Lights Out” Palmer) who plays the Good Samaritan), you can speak of a stylish end product. No explicit violence scenes (the result is usually more explicit than the action itself) and a few star-like interpretations like that of Teresa Palmer. But especially Chadwick Boseman impressed. A man with few words, but hard negotiating techniques. From the very first instance, I was fascinated by him. In my opinion, this is yet again a rough diamond that simmers on Netflix undiscovered. Don’t let anybody stop you from watching this when you bump into it somewhere, because this will surely surprise you.

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