The Contender: The Story of Marlon Brando

Harper. Oct. 2019. 736p. photos. notes. index. ISBN 9780062427649. $35; ebk. ISBN 9780062427656. FILM
Despite the magnitude of Marlon Brando’s influence as an actor and activist, there have been few biographies of him since his death in 2004, and only Stefan Kanfer’s Somebody presented a full and balanced portrait. This contribution from Mann (How To Be a Movie Star) is a deeply engaging and perceptive from page one. Neither hagiography nor scandal sheet, it’s a clear reckoning of a complex man. The author explores the films, of course, but mostly Brando himself: his difficulties with his father, his exponential growth as an actor, his awakened activism concerning racism in America, and his endlessly complicated relationships with women. The curious twist, and possibly the most compelling aspect, is Mann’s decision to conclude with a quiet moment in 1974—leaving the final 25 years of Brando’s life for a brief epilog. The madness of Apocalypse Now, his sporadic retirement, and his increasingly public family issues are thus given the briefest of consideration. While the narrative is bookended by descriptions of son Christian Brando’s 1991 trial for manslaughter, Mann has crafted a fitting end to the story he wanted to tell, and this account may be the richer for it.
VERDICT A thoroughly enjoyable, illuminating read, and a must for all libraries. [See Prepub Alert, 4/8/19.]
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