Wednesday, January 13, 2010
ME AND ORSON WELLES / ***½
Distributor: Freestyle Releasing
Release Date: November 25, 2009
Running Time: 107 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Zac Efron is not a bad actor. There, I said it.
Granted, Richard Linklater (“Before Sunrise” and “Before Sunset,” among others) cast him as a plucky, 17-year-old wannabe actor is his latest film, “Me and Orson Welles,” so it doesn’t seem like that big of a stretch for the 22-year-old “High School Musical” star. But Efron brings an undeniable enthusiasm and charisma to the role that bodes well for him as he matures from teen heartthrob to regular heartthrob.
Efron stars as Richard Samuels, who charms his way into a part in Welles’ landmark 1937 production of “Julius Caesar,” the debut show at the legendary Mercury Theater. I say Efron stars because he is technically the lead character, but this film is dominated by one man only – Christian McKay, who plays The Great Man in his first lead performance.
McKay is absolutely astounding in the role, completely embodying the role of one of the most enigmatic performers in the history of film. He hits all the right notes – arrogant and brilliant, the center of the Mercury Theater universe. All of the other actors in his troupe seemingly resent the time they spend waiting for Welles to show up, but they also know that Welles was the meal ticket; his exceptional talent and ambition overwhelmed his difficult personality.
The film follows the rehearsals and all the turmoil that is associated with the theater leading up to the iconic “Julius Caesar” production. Samuels gets swept up in the madness of the theater, falling for fellow Welles follower Sonja Jones (Claire Danes in a terrific performance), and winds up competing with the Great Man for her affection.
All of the major players are there, names you may recognize from their roles in “Citizen Kane” (which was four years away from the time this film takes place). Joseph Cotton (James Tupper) and George Coulouris (Ben Chaplin) are presented as men simultaneously grateful to be hitched to Welles’ wagon and resentful (particularly Coulouris) of being in his shadow. Eddie Marsan (one of my favorite overlooked actors) adds a brief but effective performance as John Houseman, Welles’ producer.
I was not even aware that “Me and Orson Welles” was a Linklater film until the credits rolled, but looking back on it, it all makes sense. This is a quintessentially Linklater film, and it is anchored by one of the best performances of the year from Christian McKay.
Some actors that play real people allow their performances to descend into mere imitation or caricature, but McKay overcomes the obstacles of playing someone as well known as Welles with a performance of unmitigated brilliance. I felt like I was really watching Orson Welles, and I may have trouble seeing McKay as anything else in the future.
Theater: AMC Oakview 24, Omaha, NE
Time: 505 pm
Date: December 20, 2009