Onscreen, neither Cheney nor Ellis has any charisma or appeal, so much of the film is filled with shots of the bucolic scenery and slow-moving lifestyle of the Iowans.
The idea behind King Corn, a small documentary put together by a group of childhood friends, is somewhat interesting: finding out what our bodies are made up of and tracing the substances to their roots. The problem with the film is that the filmmakers seemed to have already had the idea in their heads and then created this excuse for making a documentary about the growing, harvesting and production of what turns out to be one of the main ingredients in most of the food we consume: corn.
Directed by Aaron Wolf, King Corn follows friends Ian Cheney and Curtis Ellis as they set off on an adventure after college from Boston to Iowa, the heart of the Corn Belt. The two discover that their great great grandparents all came from the same small town of Greene, Iowa, where corn farming is a way of life. They decide to move to Greene and buy an acre of land from a random farmer to grow corn for the next season. They do all the work themselves, from seeding to harvesting. They also get to know where their ancestors lived and what life was like for them.
The documentary is slow and sometimes a bit too quaint to be charming. Onscreen, neither Cheney nor Ellis has any charisma or appeal, so much of the film is filled with shots of the bucolic scenery and slow-moving lifestyle of the Iowans. Wolf poorly paces the film, spending far too much time on the crop not growing and not nearly enough of the harvest and what happens after the corn is stored and then transported.
The film does become mildly interesting when Cheney and Ellis visit the cattle ranches in Colorado where cows are fed almost exclusively corn and corn by-product, making them less healthy and more susceptible to infection and disease. For a while, it appears as though we might get a slight social commentary or critique, but the two men abruptly leave and nothing more is said of it.
The film does have its interesting factoids, however. Cheney and Ellis discuss at length how corn makes its way into our diets and the ubiquity of high-fructose corn syrup in foods of all types. The two men also make a valiant effort at doing everything hands-on and making their acre as authentic and functional as possible.
King Corn does not nearly deliver the impact the filmmakers clearly thought it would, however it does show the promise of a few aspiring documentarians who have an eye for revealing to the viewer that which is right under their nose. | Matthew F. Newlin