Director: David Fincher
Starring: Gary Oldman, Amanda Seyfried, Lily Collins, Tuppence Middleton, Tom Burke, Tom Pelphrey, Charles Dance
It’s been six years since David Fincher gave the world Gone Girl and now he has returned, via Netflix, with Mank - a sharply-written biographical drama centered on Herman J. Mankiewicz, the outspoken screenwriter behind Citizen Kane. Written in the ‘90s by Jack Fincher (David’s late father), Mank is clearly a personal project for the director and the rich black-and-white presentation and keen-eye for the recreation of the time period is testament to Fincher’s desire to create something lasting here.
A character study into a “washed up writer” by Hollywood standards who is about to drop his misunderstood masterpiece, Mank is a stubbornly-paced stylised look at the writing process of Mankiewicz during the Citizen Kane-era - holed up in isolation, bed-ridden, devoid of booze (mostly) and with the shadow of Orson Welles looming - as well as a tip-of-the-hat to old Hollywood whilst also acting as a scathing portrayal of the shady film studio machinations of the time. It’s written with the usual panache that Fincher’s movies have come to be known for, Gary Oldman is given the lion’s share of the at-times exquisite dialogue (including one excellent monologue) and Amanda Seyfried too is given a lot to work with and, like Oldman, delivers a remarkably good performance as the curious ‘speak first-think later’ Marion Davies. The parallels to Citizen Kane are obvious to those who have seen the movie - certain shots, framing and lines of dialogue are almost lifted directly from Welles’ classic, though the need to see Kane beforehand isn’t required, there is a seeming need to have an understanding of Mankiewicz’s story ahead of time as well as that era of filmmaking, in order to catch all of the references and historical information being laid out. Whilst that isn’t necessarily a negative against Mank, I constantly asked myself during the movie, “Am I enjoying this?”and the answer was, “I’m not sure”. There are great moments littered throughout but there’s a palpable emotional void in Mank, whether purposeful or not, but there weren't any real moments where I connected with the characters or the story. It’s engaging and certainly interesting throughout but something was missing which kept Mank from being excellent. The technical presentation is stunning - with it’s genuinely authentic period feel, Fincher and DoP Erik Messerschmidt have crafted a delicious movie that’s visually a treat. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ score fits alongside the visuals wonderfully and with great performances Mank hits nearly every beat it could have - but that lack of real connection holds it back.
Come Oscar season, Mank should be in-and-amongst most of the major categories and it’s hard not to wish this had received a wider theatrical release in better times to really appreciate its beauty. However, Netflix backed Fincher all the way and, whilst not as strong as some of his previous works, Mank stands as a very decent movie about a very interesting man.
December 7th 2020