A wildly entertaining throwback to the Golden Age of Hollywood filmmaking during political unrest, tested loyalties and fear propaganda.
Mank is different than anything director David Fincher has ever done. A wildly entertaining throwback to the Golden Age of Hollywood filmmaking during political unrest, tested loyalties, and fear propaganda. A love letter to not only industry visionaries (and a scathing poke at a couple as well), but Fincher’s father too. This is a gorgeous film, down to every detail. Though, be forewarned, your enjoyment of Netflix’s latest awards bait may entirely be predicated on your level of self-proclaimed love of films and, especially, Citizen Kane.
Gary Oldman plays Herman J. Mankiewicz or “Mank”, the legendary script doctor and writer of Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane. Originally titled American, the film follows two timelines. The first has Mank on the mend after an unfortunate car accident. The other involves the personal and professional missteps that got him where he is today. He is a drunk, 40-plus-year-old man in debt to Louis B. Mayer (Arliss Howard) and writing scripts for people like boy wonder Welles (played by Tom Burke) without earning credit to make ends meet. His wife Sara (Tuppence Middleton, greatest name ever) puts up with his drinking because he’s never boring. He also has powerful friends in his back pocket such as newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst (Charles Dance), who puts up with his shenanigans because he says he is the funniest man in town.
Mank’s screenplay was written by Fincher’s father, Jack, an American journalist and screenwriter who passed away in 2003. Fincher was supposed to film Mank after The Game, but plans fell through. His father’s screenplay, by all accounts, is meticulously researched, down to the men’s fat and wide silk ties and Mankiewicz’s humor. The dialogue is pure Mank, slick and witty, and never out of style.
The enjoyment is in the legend that can never be quite proven, much like last year’s The Irishman. The speculation and unknown can be intoxicating. Widely respected film critic Pauline Kael credits Citizen Kane‘s words to Mank, while critic Richard Meryman credits the direction, as a whole, to Welles’ genius. This is where Fincher’s film gets its juice. That and, layered in-between, the political corruption, the use of propaganda, and slimy business tactics never go out of style. These themes are as timeless as ever, and just as relevant today as they were nearly a century ago.
The film has a deep bench of actors. Lily Collins plays Rita Alexander, an aide hired to help Mank mend and keep him on track to finish his masterpiece. She looks like old-fashioned Hollywood royalty and this may be her best role to date. Then you have Amanda Seyfried’s dazzling and funny portrayal of an actress born without a filter and who loves playing the fool, Marion Davies. Her performance is a pure, exhilarating breath of fresh air.
But Mank rests on the shoulders of Gary Oldman’s talent, the kind that makes your head spin. A man whose big, brash style in roles ranging from Winston Churchill to Norman Stansfield never ceases to amaze. Here, he perfectly sets the tone for the titular character, down to the very last witty retort. You may say to yourself you didn’t know he had it in him. It will stand the test of time. Just like Mankiewicz’s greatest achievement.
M.N. Miller has been a film and television writer for Ready Steady Cut since August of 2018 and is patiently waiting for the next Pearl Jam album to come out.