NPR logo It's Not A Sled Anymore: Remaking A Cinematic Classic


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A film premieres in Toronto tonight about a poor boy who rises to great power as a media mogul, only to die longing for the simple things of his childhood. If that story sounds familiar, it's because it's the plot of "Citizen Kane," the 1941 movie classic that tops many lists of the greatest films ever made. The new film is a remake from an unlikely Canadian auteur.

We asked critic Bob Mondello how it stacks up to the Orson Welles original.


BOB MONDELLO: The opening shot is wide-screen and color, not square and black-and-white. But it's otherwise identical to the opening of the original: a no-trespassing sign on a chain-link fence in the rain. Then the camera pulls back to reveal not a gloomy mountaintop estate but a grimy, window-shattered New York skyscraper, a 57-story, single-occupancy Trump Tower filled with enormously expensive kitsch by Charles Foster Kane, who is about to breathe his last into a cell phone, before it slips from his hand and shatters on the marble floor.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (as Kane) Rosebud.

MONDELLO: Kane was, as we learn in a CNN profile, the man whose international media conglomerate defined conservative orthodoxy in the 21st century. With a few terse texts to his editors, Kane could knock economies into tailspins, send nations marching into war. So why did he die without even Facebook friends? And what, wonders the producer of that CNN profile, did he mean when he whispered Rosebud? A reporter is given two hours to find out.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: They got me on hold.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: Go there. Talk to him and get me something...

MONDELLO: The original "Citizen Kane" was based closely enough on the life of William Randolph Hearst, that its ads were banned from Hearst's newspapers. I'd say you shouldn't expect to see ads for this one on Fox. The back-story it invents tracks pretty closely to the politics and personal life of Rupert Murdoch, though with plenty of liberties taken about his early years.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: You are the big cat destined to wander forever, spreading your sunshine.

MONDELLO: I won't be alone in marveling that the creator of this concept is actor and, more recently, director Keanu Reeves. My initial reaction was maybe best expressed by the man himself


MONDELLO: But that's not really fair considering that just last year, Reeves made a perfectly respectable directing debut. His "Man of Tai Chi," in retrospect, looks like a practice run, a chance to play with digital effects that in "Kane" he overdoes a bit. I mean, Orson Welles reinvented cinematic form, Reeves is just digitizing and repurposing shots from his own early films, including the surfing flick "Point Break," so he can play the young Charlie Kane himself. You can think that's clever and still not like Rosebud having a fin instead of blades.

But credit Reeves with holding his own in a seasoned cast. John Malkovich as the miserly guardian who fuels Kane's anger at the world...


JOHN MALKOVICH: You represent the idiocy of today.

MONDELLO: Charlize Theron as the untalented pop singer who bemoans her plight as his second wife.


CHARLIZE THERON: I hate this stupid place.

REEVES: It's a little more than that.

THERON: I know, but it's...

MONDELLO: And while I wouldn't have gone with his "Bill and Ted" costar, Alex Winter, as Kane's eventually estranged best friend.



REEVES: Yes way.

MONDELLO: Well, it's his movie, not mine. Does all this justify making a new "Citizen Kane" in 3-D and with a martial arts subplot? Well, purists will surely argue no. But it's worth remembering that 73 years ago, cinema purists didn't take kindly to Orson Welles crashing their little party, either. He came from the world of Broadway, where no one thinks twice about revisiting "Hamlet." So perhaps it's best to think of this "Kane" as a reinterpretation not a remake. Citizen Keanu, if you will.

I'm Bob Mondello.


BLOCK: The movie is "Citizen Kane, 3D." The remake of the Orson Welles classic, opens in Toronto tonight.

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