The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters

How many hours a week do you spend playing video games? Chances are, your number doesn't even come close to the people in The King Of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters. The film centers around unemployed Washingtonian Steve Wiebe, who is attempting to break a world record for highest score ever on the original Donkey Kong arcade game. The man who's record Wiebe must overcome is renowned gamer Billy Mitchell, who set the benchmark in Donkey Kong over 20 years ago. In the world of competitive gaming, Billy Mitchell is the king. Always seen with a mullet and American themed ties, Mitchell is the cockiest gamer you can ever hope to encounter, and he has the world records to back it up. Does Wiebe have what it takes to dethrone this giant of the gaming world? By the end of The King of Kong, you're certainly going to hope so.

The King of Kong is a documentary that unfolds as a terrific underdog story. Steve Wiebe is an easily sympathetic character who we enjoy watching succeed and hate watching fail. On the other end is Billy Mitchell, the quintessential villain who gets by on reputation alone, and is damned proud of it. He has minions (other gamers) who are hopelessly devoted to him and will do whatever they need to in order to keep him on top of the leaderboard. Mitchell doesn't even grant Wiebe the chance of facing off with him one on one, for reasons known only to himself. It's almost as though Wiebe is Mario, the world record is the Princess, and Mitchell is Donkey Kong. No matter how many barrels Wiebe jumps, whenever he gets within grasp of the record, Mitchell just picks it up and moves to the next level. The rivalry born from these two competitors throughout the film becomes so intriguing that you cannot help but invest all of your attention towards it.

Director Seth Gordon needs to be heavily credited with making The King of Kong such an entertaining film. His clever editing paints Mitchell as a truly awful human being, someone you would never want to be friends with or look up to in your entire life. It also doesn't hurt that Mitchell is a gold mine for unashamed, self-centered remarks. Meanwhile, we see Wiebe in a much more respectable light. He is a soft-spoken family man that never says a negative thing about anyone. Some would say this shows an obvious bias that is driving the film, but I don't think that is such a big deal. After all, we are just talking about video games here. The King of Kong was obviously developed to be an entertaining film, and any decisions by Gordon to skew information was for the audiences benefit. In reality, Wiebe and Mitchell are actually on very friendly terms, but you wouldn't want to watch a film about two buddies having a friendly competition, would you? However, if you are very picky about your documentaries being 100% truthful, perhaps you can void yourself of this delightful film.

The King of Kong is filmed mostly in the style of cinema verite, meaning the camera is completely objective and follows events as they happened. Occasionally though, interviews with the cast are placed in order to get a direct reaction to some of the events. This was definitely the best option Gordon could have taken, as it allows every ounce of emotion, whether it be humor or sadness, out of every scene.

For any readers who are scared of the idea of watching a documentary, I implore you to give The King of Kong a chance. It is not a political statement dealing with blood diamonds or animal cruelty. It's simply a fun film that you can have a blast watching. It follows a plot just like any other movie, so it won't bring you out of your comfort zone all that much. Or perhaps you'd rather just play video games. My rating (9/10)

1 comment:

  1. Nick,

    Great review! I think you pretty much nail it when you say the film is just plain fun to watch - that's how I felt. The rivalry between Steve and Billy feels really tense and dramatic, but I didn't know that they got along in real life. That would make sense, it seems movies (and other media) often hype up the little molehills to make the show more interesting. It worked nicely in this case.

    I'm not really a student of cinema, so thanks for pointing out what "verite" is and how it was used effectively in this film. In fact I can think of several other documentaries I've seen that use the same technique.

    I recently wrote my own review of this film, which you can check out if you're interested. Basically I had the same feelings about it as you: an excellent and really fun film to watch!


Movies given a 10/10

  • Milk
  • In Bruges
  • Slumdog Millionaire
  • The Dark Knight
  • Iron Man
  • No Country For Old Men
  • The Shining
  • A Clockwork Orange