Citizen Kane (1941) Review

Director: Orson Welles

Genre(s): Drama

Runtime: 119 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG

IMDb Page

In both the 1998 and 2007 editions of the American Film Institute’s lists of the greatest American movies of all time, Citizen Kane came in at number one. Can this motion picture possibly live up to the ecstatic levels of praise that’s heaped upon it? The plot of the flick in question is about reporters struggling to figure out the meaning of “Rosebud,” the last word spoken by dying newspaper magnate Charles Foster Kane (Orson Welles).

Citizen Kane is an interesting feature to review because of the near-universal acclaim it has received. It’s an unquestionably ostentatious and pretentious movie, but perhaps rightfully so. It’s surprisingly modern-feeling and undated by time, with various elements competing for the audience’s attention in some scenes. While the flick was intended to be a take-that aimed at William Randolph Hearst, it does sometimes feel like a brilliant tech demo searching for a compelling story. The film is a parade of one terrific use of cinematic technique after another, making the viewer wonder what trick the filmmakers are going to pull next. The story takes a backseat to all of this experimentation.

Citizen Kane is sometimes compared and contrasted with one of its rival movies from the Golden Age of Hollywood: Casablanca (1942). I have a hypothesis that moviegoers can largely be divided into two groups: Citizen Kane People (who adore certain films for the impact they have on the art of cinema as a whole) and Casablanca People (who love certain pictures for the impact that these works have on them as a person). Count me in as a Casablanca Person through and through.

Some modern viewers of Citizen Kane are left with the impression that it’s “dated.” I disagree. This feature probably never appealed to the normal filmgoer in the first place, even back in 1941 (it’s easy to appreciate, but nearly impossible to love). It’s mostly for hard-core cinephiles. We also need to put to rest the false notion that films were “proto-movies” prior to the release of Citizen Kane. One viewing of The Wizard of Oz (1939) will put that idea in its grave. Anyway, I’m going to give Kane a positive, but not euphoric score, as I enjoy it, but, as far as pictures I’d bring with me on a desert island go, this one’s not very high on the list. Hey, I’m a Casablanca Person. What do you expect?

My rating is 7 outta 10.

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