A consistently intelligent (or at least bright), coherently constructed comedy that is on occasion a rather pointed critique of the American education system in the…
Steven Soderbergh's "King of the Hill" is the story of a 12-year-old boy who is left on his own in St. Louis during the Great Depression, and not only survives but thrives, and learns a thing or two. His parents are absent for excellent reasons: His mother is in a TB sanitarium, and his father, a door-to-door salesman, having failed to find much of a market for wickless candles, has left town to travel for a watch company. His younger brother has been shipped away to relatives. That leaves young Aaron (Jesse Bradford) behind in his family's rooms in the Empire Hotel, a transient hotel not quite nice enough to qualify as a brothel.
As a hero, Jesse has some of the qualities of Huckleberry Finn, David Copperfield or Oliver Twist. He's plucky, smart, and knows his way around people. It is a sad truth that he could not survive in today's unkinder world, but in the 1930s he finds it possible to support himself and even attend a prestigious local school, all because of his gift of gab and his genius at creative lying.
"King of the Hill" is based on a 1972 memoir by A.E.
Hotchner, who presumably lived through experiences something like these, and who grew up to be the biographer of Ernest Hemingway and Doris Day, among others, indicating among other things an impressive reach. It's curious that Steven Soderbergh chose this story for his third film, since it has no apparent connection with his first two: "sex, lies, and videotape," which was a sensational debut, and "Kafka," which was a ponderous and uncompelling follow-up. Now, with the kind of material you'd never dream of associating with him, he has made his best film.