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Me & Orson Welles - Review

Me & Orson Welles

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

RICHARD Linklater’s absorbing insight into a seminal moment in the early life of Orson Welles, as seen through the eyes of a young acting hopeful, is a richly absorbing piece of work.

Displaying a keen eye for period detail, a coming-of-age performance from Zac Efron and a revelatory breakthrough one from Christian McKay, it’s a highly recommended experience for anyone who loves both cinema and theatre.

Linklater, meanwhile, combines the indie nuances and emotional attachments evident in work such as Before Sunset and Before Sunrise with crowd-pleasing, mainstream touches more befitting his School of Rock work.

It’s New York, 1937, and artistically inclined student Richard Samuels (Efron) suddenly finds himself in the orbit of Orson Welles (McKay), who – after an impromptu street audition – casts him in a small role in his forthcoming production of Julius Caesar.

As he learns the ropes and comes to terms with the chaotic creativity of theatre life, Richard starts a romance with Welles’ assistant, Sonja (Claire Danes), that inevitably puts him on a collision course with Welles.

While the love triangle element of Linklater’s movie is fictional, and based on the novel by Robert Kaplow, the environment in which it takes place is all true. Welles first made a real name for himself with Caesar and never looked back.

Efron’s character, meanwhile, is loosely based on a real-life young actor who was pictured on-stage with Welles, and who inspired Kaplow to ponder what that must have felt like for the young protege.

The film joyfully recreates many of the photographs that stem from that production, while employing some of the text used by Welles and the original score.

It also provides a wonderful insight into the artistic life, tapping into the behind-the-scenes chaos of a theatre production, as well as the egos, crushes and career ups and downs that accompany them.

The film is also refreshingly bittersweet in its depiction of Samuels’ journey, delivering some hard knocks in between the emotional highs that feel all too real.

As such, Efron gets to trade well on his High School Musical, while hanging with the big boys (in the form of heavyweight thesps such as McKay’s Welles and Eddie Marsan’s manager). He copes really well, proving there’s a wealth of talent that’s still to be tapped.

But the film really belongs to McKay, whose robust, larger-than-life depiction of Welles is truly captivating. The unknown British star captures the essence of Welles impeccably, imbuing him with just the right mix of generosity and cruelty, so as to make him a formidable foe… as well as a genius in waiting.

Linklater, meanwhile, ensures that all elements of the Welles we have since come to know are in place… from the undoubted talent that would go on to develop screen classics such as Citizen Kane to the cruel ego that would eventually lead to his decline.

It’s a clever, typically nuanced piece of work that’s insightful, playful and, above all, emotionally absorbing.

Certificate: 12A
Running time: 114mins
UK Release Date: December 14, 2009