A few thoughts on the Oscar nominated Best Picture nominee and Fincher passion project – Mank.
The newly and long-awaited passion project by David Fincher is the story of screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz in the lead up to him penning the acclaimed classic Citizen Kane released back in 1941. The writer was also known for his uncredited contributions to films such as The Wizard of Oz and The Pride of St. Louis. Known as Mank, the screenwriter (Gary Oldman) is set up in a distant Victorville residence with his secretary Rita Alexander (Lily Collins) who helps him type up the screenplay, as he is recovering from a broken leg sustained from a car accident. Throughout the film, we see him recollect events that inspired Kane and that have lead up to his days in Victorville.
Mank is written by Jack Fincher, the father of David Fincher who died in 2003. The film was originally intended to be the director’s next project after 1997’s The Game but the project didn’t gain support when he wanted to shoot it in black and white in the colourful early 21st Century. Now finding its home at Netflix with full artistic licence (similar to Welles’ TKO deal for Kane) and in luminous monochrome thanks to the cinematography of Mindhunter’s Erik Messerschmidt, Fincher is very clear on the film he wished to make and in part honour to his late father, whose seemingly intended wish was to create a fitting tribute to Mankiewicz whose large contribution to the writing of Citizen Kane was largely unseen in Hollywood, despite his Oscar win.
Gary Oldman is wonderful in the role as Mank, whose commitment to the role is both honourable and humorous, his light touch to not over-exaggerate the flaws of the man, but to portray the whip-crack tongue-in-cheek nature he possessed is carefully observed between page and portrayal. What does not always work is the believability that Oldman, the 62 year old English actor is playing the 42 year old Mankiewicz, whose wife Sara was the same age as Mank, whom is played by 34 year old English actress Tuppence Middleton. Whilst Oldman is absolutely great in the role, it feels distracting that the older actor is playing a role two, sometimes three decades younger than him. One might argue that a younger actor should’ve portrayed Mank in his earlier days in the scenes set in the 1930’s and Oldman continue to play him in Victorville and beyond.
Oldman is also joined a starry cast portraying figures of the characters that would later inspire Citizen Kane, such as William Randolph Hearst, the inspiration behind the protagonist Kane, portrayed by Charles Dance with a sense of commanding dominance with the simplest of stares or smallest of words, his booming final monologue is unsuspectingly intimidating. Hearst’s mistress and Hollywood actress Marion Davies is perfectly fleshed out by Amanda Seyfried, dressed in Summerville’s sublime costuming, whose performance almost steals the show. Seyfried seems to understand the humour and the delicacy the role needed, she effortlessly breathes so much sensitivity and respect that Davies had. Orson Welles only appears briefly in few scenes, portrayed by the chameleonic actor Tom Burke, whilst Ozark‘s Tom Pelphrey is also wonderful alongside Oldman in his scenes as Mank’s brother Joseph L. Mankiewicz.
The film’s flow in which it transitions from scene to scene is immaculately done, with much kudos to the editing by Kirk Baxter as well as to the sound and the lightning design in ode to the movies of that era, the narrative often referencing the tonal shifts on Citizen Kane and 30’s Hollywood movies. Yet with its superior technical elements including the very un-Trent-Reznor score by Reznor and Atticus Ross, it is through watching the film you can’t help but wonder: what exactly is Mank trying to say?
As a movie lover, Mank is a thrilling journey into a world otherwise unbeknownst to me, but who or what is the movie for? It could be seen as a way to reintroduce a new generation to Kane, but you would soon argue the star is undoubtedly actor and co-writer Orson Welles. Whatever its intention, Mank is technically successful in both its onscreen acting and behind-the-scenes elements, but it is missing the action and urgency Fincher’s previous work has shown before, such as the thrilling Gone Girl, the mystery of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo remake, or his truly terrifying tale Zodiac.
Whether you’re a fan of Kane, or this story is completely new to you (I’ve yet to fully watch Kane- I know), Mank succeeds in capturing the era of Hollywood often hailed as the golden, and showing another side to the story of one of the most acclaimed films to be made, through the eyes of one of the most beloved and respected screenwriters the industry had seen. Watch it once, appreciate the art, and if you haven’t already, go watch Citizen Kane.
Available to watch on Netflix.