Ewan Gleadow

Movie Review: Citizen Kane

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Copyright: RKO

Years ago, before I’d even started polluting the internet with my thoughts on film, I watched Citizen Kane. Those immortal words muttered at the end of this Orson Welles-directed film were met with a passing shrug of the shoulders in a futile attempt at tapping into my mind. Rewatching this was inevitable, and with all the hype surrounding Netflix’s Mank, there’s no better time to give it a second shot than now. Surely, I should be interested in Citizen Kane, especially considering it looks to detail a successful newspaper tycoon and the enchanting owner at the heart of it. The reporters that hound his death like vultures looking for a half-decent byline making an instant, sickly-sweet example of ghoulish press packs looking for a scoop. I’d be living the dream if that were me.  

Like most films of this period, there are some marvellous lines hidden away throughout. Welles’ direction and performance bring together this script with an endless need to create something wholly engaging. He reconciles his artistic spirit with an acerbic performance, dominating the screen with forthright wit and entertainment. The controversial way he runs the newspaper he takes over is documented well and thoroughly entertaining. His larger-than-life approach to living and working alongside his staff is mesmerising, but let down somewhat by the performers he’s surrounded by. 

It’s not that they’re bad, they’re just not on the same level as Welles. Their acting could use a bit of work, and sometimes their dated prose and reactionary status is weak in the face of modern filmmaking. Welles looks to innovate, but feels held back rather harshly by some static supporting players. Nothing too dreadful, we’re able to move forward with amicable results, it’s just upsetting to see that there could have been a lot more on offer. There’s no tampering with the tempest Welles creates, though, a narrative that manages an intensely brilliant back and forth, between the rise and rise of Kane and the reporters looking to encapsulate his death in one headline.  

A demanding film that brought a lot more to the table than I’d first expected. I’d forgotten much of this film, and returning to it was a rewarding experience. Still, I don’t understand the unanimous, unwavering praise for this one among my peers. Certainly ground-breaking and incredibly influential, but these parts are few and far between. How an entire film evolves around only one, final utterance, amazes me. At the same time, though, there’s something to be desired from this one, a film whose direction and writing far outweighs the plot at heart. It’s a straightforward, yet thoroughly compelling drama about the life of a fictitious man that just so happens to be an inspired piece of film.