RKO 281, the working title for "Citizen Kane," was released last year on HBO to critical acclaim. It won a Golden Globe for the Best Motion Picture Made for Television. Liev Schreiber stars as Orson Welles, the hottest new director in Hollywood after his infamous "War of the Worlds" radio broadcast. "Citizen Kane" was to be his first motion picture, for RKO (it was their 281st production, hence the title of the film). Welles derives his inspiration for "Citizen Kane" after a dinner meeting with the hypocritical and tyrannical newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst (played by James Cromwell). With the help of Herman Mankiewicz (played by John Malkovich), the scriptwriter, Welles directs what some call even today the greatest American movie ever. But, upon learning that the film is about him, Hearst tries to shut the movie down, by using his vast newspaper empire, blackmail, and threats. Can Welles convince RKO and its stockholders to believe in him and allow "Citizen Kane" to open?
Of course, some of the suspense in the movie is taken away, since this is history, and we know the outcome. But RKO 281 provides a fascinating "behind the scenes" view of what Welles had to overcome to get his movie made and released, and the effect it had on him and his friendships. All of the actors in the movie are terrific, including the aforementioned, along with Melanie Griffith, Roy Scheider, and Brenda Blethyn. The only shortcoming of the film is that its too short – lasting at a mere 87 minutes, it left me wanting more – the box promised too much, and gave too little.