★ ★ ★ ☆
The thought of an Orson Welles biopic is naturally one that has intrigued me. Welles was a cinematic genius, and an eccentric--perhaps a madman. He demanded nothing less than brilliance from each and every member of his cast, and would lash out arbitrarily at anyone who fell slightly short. As a Welles aficionado, I was thrilled when I heard that Richard Linklater would be directing a film about the man. Though I was concerned with some of the casting decisions, the finished product was quite satisfying. Not only was it entertaining--it was actually quite insightful. Though many of the details were likely fictional, Linklater did a fine job of exploring the mind of Orson Welles.
The film betrayed a deep admiration for Welles' work. Adapted from a Robert Kaplow novel of the same name, it made constant references to Welles' corpus. Even in the most casual conversations, the characters would quote or paraphrase scenes from his major works. Many of these references were used to create dramatic irony for those familiar with Welles' work. Though I've not read the book, it was likely no easy task for screenwriter Holly Gent Palmo to bring such a literary flair to the big screen.
The biggest concern I had going into the film was the casting. More specifically, I was vexed by the notion of casting Zac Efron in the lead role. He isn't exactly Oscar caliber talent. The irony is that this is precisely why he fit the role. Efron was cast as an amateur actor. A more skilled lead would have seemed disingenuous in the role. It's rare that I'll praise an actor for his mediocrity, but this role demanded mediocrity. Claire Danes was respectable as Efron's love interest, and James Tupper played a convincing Joseph Cotton.
At the risk of sounding unoriginal, I will laud Christian McKay copiously for his portrayal of Welles. McKay was cast by Linklater after the director had seen him play Welles in an off Broadway production. McKay was born for the role. Aside from his resemblance to Welles (from a profile view), his emulation of Welles' mannerisms seemed completely natural. It's no easy task to seem natural when playing an eccentric like Welles. He even managed to capture his haughty speaking style. Maybe he didn't capture Welles the man. He certainly did capture Welles public persona. This is what made the film interesting. McKay constantly left the audience wondering whether the persona and the man are one and the same. On a fittingly Wellesian note, perhaps we can never truly know the man.