Contemporary documentaries that focus on individuals rather than big political or social issues tend to be either heavy-handed smear jobs (even if you agree with their basic politics or stance) or hagiographic puff pieces passed off as reportage. The latter is the case with Dejan Acimovic's The King, whose subject is 40-year-old Croatian Paralympian Darko Kralj, a record-setting Olympic gold medalist. In this instance, though, the softball approach works. Wounded during Croatia's 1991 war, Kralj lost one of his legs and then still proceeded to become a world-class athlete. A big bear of a man with a quiet demeanor but multiple layers (he loves to hunt, and his musing on the sport makes it seem a spiritual practice for him), Kralj quietly but powerfully holds center frame as the film tracks his family life sweet romps with his mini-me sons, making homemade sausage with his wife and parents), workouts with his coach, fishing with friends, stoically going through the tedious process of being fitted for a new artificial leg, and so on. Beautifully shot, the film is unapologetically a crowd-pleaser whose gentleness of tone flows from its subject.
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