2 December 2009 | MisterWhiplash
a revelation in Christian McKay's performance in Linklater's latest
Orson Welles was, if nothing else, 'something. Even his detractors, like Ingmar Bergman, said that he had an 'immense personality', and this is what is a great appeal for an actor who can embody the full emotions of the man, and look like him second. Richard Linklater, the director, has an ace up his sleeve with the casting of Christian McKay- an actor who is a relative newcomer in film- that is just about right. It's actually a case where the actor, perhaps due to the personality/character of the man he's portraying, upstages others around him.
This is good (as is McKay, being in his 30's, making 22-at-the-time Orson appear or act older/wiser), since Welles is a man who could take over a room, and in fact was looked upon to do so with his Mercury theater players, who couldn't even do much rehearing or anything until he showed up. McKay goes into every little gesture or facial expression with gusto and, equally, some sublty when called for like when talking about his pet project of the Magnificent Ambersons.
It's almost so good a performance as Welles that you should see the movie just for him: fans of the director/actor/legend will want to see him brought to life and made in respectful homage, and non-fans will be marveled by a thespian bringing another thespian to life. There is a downside, however, in Linklater's casting (not so much with the supporting roles as they vary between being very good like the guy playing Joseph Cotten aka 'Joe the lady's man' to decent like Ben Chaplain as Coulouris) with Zak Efron. It's admirable that he's trying to get past his days of High School Musical and build up an actual career, but he doesn't breathe enough life into his coming-of-age character Richard to make him more than just passable. He's a cute kid, yet he's not really able to meet up to the dimensions of the character (which, to be fair, are kind of thin).
Linklater's film is inherently interesting dramatization just on the main subject matter: Welles and the Mercury theater putting on the daring production of Julius Caesar that would propel him and his troupe into the first real spotlight. However the film is most interesting and gets its main dramatic fire when it focuses on the rehearsals and some of the backstage antics (i.e. an accidental setting-off of the sprinklers by Richard fooling with matches), not so much the quasi-love story between Clare Danes' character with Efron. It's not got anything we haven't seen before, even in the sort of whimsical fable that Linklater lays out. The conclusion of their relationship is wise- as is how Welles 'deals' with Richard late in the film- but ultimately one kind of sighs and sits through a lot of so-so acting/pouting by Efron in order to get to the juicier scenes with Welles. But, as I mentioned before, it's worth a full-price pretty much on the basis of Welles and McKay. As Welles himself could be: exceptional and/or decent at once. 7.5/10