November 1825, 1999
RKO 281 (premieres Nov. 20 on HBO) With a month-long drop on TimRobbins Cradle Will Rock, this made-for-cable movie has the honor of being the years first OrsonWelles-related docudrama. Lets hope its not the best. Directed by Benjamin Ross (The YoungPoisoners Handbook) and written by playwright John Logan, the film unimaginatively details the feud betweenWelles and William Randolph Hearst (the model for Welles megalomaniac publisher in Citizen Kane).Hearsts claws-out campaign to prevent the films exhibition is the stuff of legend (and the rather dulldocumentary The Battle Over Citizen Kane, which serves as source material here), but RKO 281(Kanes production code) gives us headbutting when we should be witnessing a clash of titans. Neither LievSchreiber nor James Cromwell (Welles and Hearst respectively) has the charisma or onscreen willpower to incarnate theirlarger-than-life subjects, and the screenplay reduces the champagne wit of Herman Mankiewicz (John Malkovich) todrunken, foul-mouthed ravings. (Mank was a drunk, but he could do better for insults than calling someone a"fucking bastard.") RKO 281 is best in depicting Welles giddy, cavalier arrogance as he steersKane over budget and defies attempts to control him he called a movie studio "the biggest electrictrain set a boy ever had." But the film falters where most such films falter: It fails to account for genius.Without that, its just a lot of wind.