Down with the King
Diego Ongaro / Xabi Molia, Diego Ongaro, and Freddie Gibbs
📷 : Used with permission, Netflix
Movies and TV shows with low-key characters
Nonfamily dramas with strong adult and/or socioeconomic themes
“Good to get some fresh air, you know. Kinda hit mute on everything.”
Mercury "Money Merc" Maxwell
Every once in a while, you scroll through the content tiles on your streaming offerings and your eyes land on what turns out to be a gem. This is what happened to me the other day as I was, coincidentally, looking for a gem on Netflix. I came across Down with the King and was disappointed to learn it was released in 2022. How could I have missed this? An old adage says it’s okay to talk to yourself as long as you don’t answer. In this case, I answered myself: Because there’s a lot of content Reba!
That aside, I enjoyed this film about Mercury “Money Merc” Maxwell, a popular late 20s/early 30-something-year-old rapper who retreats from the limelight to live in a rural farming community. Although he is the only Black man around, he is friends with Bob, played by Bob Tarasuk (American Thief), a farmer who lives nearby, and he eventually becomes acquainted with the people who work at the local hardware store.
Led by Freddie Gibbs, Down with the King feels like a documentary. The story begins in the middle of the protagonist’s retreat and never visually integrates his prior life. Because of this, the film doesn’t sufficiently contextualize Mercury’s story by answering the central question around the events that prompted him to leave his family, friends, and a successful music career. So, the film lacks a clear definition of the problem Mercury is dealing with. However, this doesn’t necessarily keep us from relating to the film as is.
Mercury’s dilemma cannot be resolved by a vacation, something we take every so often to escape the stresses of work and family to relax and recharge. Instead, his struggle seems to warrant something more akin to what we do to figure things out and gain some clarity about what we really want for ourselves, something a week or two will not resolve. Mercury’s problem is less about getting the temporary decompression offered by a short getaway, but more about wellness — what he feels he needs to learn in order to better manage his life. Researchers emphasize that wellness is about “living life fully,” but add that it is “a personalized approach to living life in a way that… allows you to become the best kind of person that your potential, circumstances, and fate will allow.” Mercury retreats to this quiet, rural community for his overall wellbeing.
Down with the King helps us appreciate what peace feels like through the film’s visual and auditory presentation. Scenes of wide-open land, tall trees with fresh powdered snow, a pond, and Mercury grilling food for himself outdoors in the cool temperatures give us the sense of his satisfaction in being alone without feeling lonely. We see that life is slower and offers a cadence as families gather for dinner and create their own entertainment with an acoustic guitar, piano, and popular folk songs. Such family bonding defines the culture of many rural communities, which is partly reinforced by the absence or unreliability of Internet and cable service that invite distractions like social media and television entertainment.
While shaky connectivity benefits rural communities with respect to culture, it has some social disadvantages as well. Few pathways for information streamed through the Internet and TV compounded by the lack of access to people who are different buffers residents from alternative perspectives on a wide range of matters. These deficits contribute to a communal solidarity built around sameness and that is resistant to difference. We see this in the film when Mercury begins hanging out with Michaele, a young woman in the community played by Jamie Neumann (The Deuce). He returns home after a walk to find the windshield of his car shattered and the culprits speeding away. Even Michaele agrees with him that this is likely why his windshield was busted, and calmly adds, “I told you. This town is for the f***in birds. … it’s small town. Maybe somebody got pissed off. ... That’s why I want to get the f*** out of here.”
During his time away, Mercury develops a close friendship with Bob and helps him on his farm. When Mercury makes a grave error preparing an animal for market, he apologizes and offers to compensate Bob for the loss and to purchase another animal to replace it. Upset, Bob tells Mercury that he doesn’t want his money, adding “And where are you getting that cow? And who the f***’s is it? And what food did it eat?” This exchange is quite telling of Bob’s pride in his farming and the tacit commitment he makes to his customers about the quality of his products. The scene is meant to be a statement about individual (not commercial) farmers in general: the physical labor, the tight budgets, and the deep sense of pride they have in their work. It also shows, though, that money alone doesn’t fix everything on a farm, even though it is all Mercury has to offer given his inexperience with farming. Thus, Bob’s expectation that he not make mistakes is unrealistic and unfair. The scene showing Mercury’s frustration with his mistake and Bob’s refusal to give him a way to make it right, is relatable for many members of marginalized groups who often feel the pressure to be perfect and are rarely given margin for errors.
Throughout Mercury’s retreat, Paul, Mercury’s agent played by David Krumholtz (Oppenheimer, The Deuce), beckons him to return to his music career despite Mercury insisting he is not ready to do so. Paul ignores him, however, and it becomes clear that Mercury’s wellbeing and wishes are not of concern to the industry. What is of concern to the industry is Mercury’s ability to generate revenue for all involved. Throughout this film, he is essentially, tirelessly, inexhaustibly fighting for himself. Something I suppose we all have to do.