Mank (MOVIE REVIEW)
Runtime: 131 Minutes
Director: David Fincher
Cast: Gary Oldman, Amanda Seyfried, Lily Collins, Arliss Howard
In 1941, a film by the name of Citizen Kane was released by RKO Pictures as a last ditch effort by the studio to recoup profits by doing the unthinkable: recruit a first time filmmaker (Orson Welles), and allow him the full creative freedom to make whatever he wanted. While the film and its countless contributions to the future of cinema have now forever cemented it as one of the greatest motion pictures ever made, it was also home to a lot of controversy throughout its production. Most nominally, the still somewhat theorised debate as to who wrote Citizen Kane.
David Fincher’s newest film, adapted from his late father’s screenplay from the 90s is a dramatised take on this age old controversy about Citizen Kane as told from the point of view of one of Hollywood’s oldest unappreciated writers, Herman J Mankiewicz. Told through the perspective of Mankiewicz as he is initially only given 60 days to write the first draft by Orson Welles following a bad car accident, the film uses Citizen Kane’s originally unorthodox cinematic approaches to serve as a unique take on the inceptions of this famed film, whist also being an epic homage and small parody to the early ages of Hollywood during the Great Depression. On the whole, the film presented here is a remarkable effort from Fincher, taking what is known about Citizen Kane’s history to give a mostly unbiased look into its development, while also acting as an amazing showcase for its cast and its filmmaking team, even if its mildly slumped by some pacing problems with a somewhat sloppy second act.
The first thing that should be established about Mank is its filmmaking style which mostly forbids most traditional filmmaking seen in film today in favour of imitating the original 1941 film. The film is shot in a gorgeous Monochrome black and white, fitted alongside additional attentions to detail like the film using multiple flashbacks and jumping between timelines in similar fashion to Citizen Kane, representing much of the same creative choices once seen as experimental at the time. Along with that, the film has a substantial amount of film grain with the focus just barely not at its peak to give a classical look while even the sound design has seen a unique boost where it sounds quite muffled and distorted, almost to a bit of a detriment where Netflix’s subtitles might work as a supportive alternative. David Fincher’s attention to detail to make this film feel like a fun blast to the past not only supplements the story being told about Mank’s history of the film given many of its creative choices stemmed from him, but it also works to act as a parody of sorts to classic Hollywood. The first half of Mank acts as a wild glamorous love letter to the movie business closer to its initial inception, while also planting little seeds in regards to the poor treatment studios heads gave to their staff and especially to their screenwriters. Without ever feeling too show-y, Mank demonstrates Mankiewicz’s elaborate writing process and how much of the friends and work partners he was around helped become the inceptions behind many of Citizen Kane’s characters and storytelling beats. The cast is incredible here, with the highlights being Gary Oldman as Mank, alongside Amanda Seyfried as Hollywood actress Marion Davies. Other notable great cast members include Lily Collins as Mank’s secretary, who perfectly embodies classic 1940’s acting to a scarily accurate degree, and Charles Dance as William Hearst who is widely regarded as the original inspiration behind the now famed character of Charles Foster Kane.
While much of the cast and the filmmakers tasked to bring classical Hollywood to life deserve perfect points for their contributions here, it’s ironically within the screenwriting stage where Mank can stumble a little. The film is exceptionally well structured using much of the same flashback techniques established in Citizen Kane to delve into Mank’s history and his contributions to a film are nearly never given credit. For the first half, the film did an excellent job keeping things engaging as it introduced its world and established how many of its characters served as inspiration for Citizen Kane. It also remains consistently entertaining as it glamorises many aspects of Hollywood not present nowadays where it feels almost satirical in its approach to it all. However, it’s in the second half, where the film starts to rope politics into the mix where the film becomes a bit of a convoluted mess where Mank gets involved in Smear Campaign films made against Upton Sinclair who was running for Governor of California. Though it is important to chronicle these events especially given Mank’s link to them, it slows the film down to a crawl at times and it becomes considerably less interesting. But thankfully the film never focuses on that area for too long and leads into a wonderful conclusion which is powerfully acted and still speaks many harsh truths about the film industry that still remain true to this day. And it truly is admirable for Fincher to explore these truths, especially now that he has a ton more creative freedom under a platform like Netflix to demonstrate this where a major studio might have wanted to underplay it. It’s only a testament to his honesty as a filmmaker and how he is able to approach his films with an unbiased feel that is refreshing more than anything.
Mank is an exciting return for David Fincher and a true love letter and simultaneous criticism of the old age of Hollywood and its unfair treatment to one of its best and unloved writers of its time. Though it wouldn't be shocking if some viewers might want to turn it off after a bombastic first half, the film keeps its footing even as it gets a bit messy towards the end thanks to an amazing cast and a passionate undertaking to recreate Citizen Kane’s magic as much as it can. It was perhaps inevitable that the film would never live up to the iconic status of one of the best films ever made, but regardless of what you think, Fincher’s unbiased biopic is one to check out for cinema history buffs and those who have any passion for the behind the scene coverage of movies itself. It will likely be Fincher’s most inaccessible film, especially if you don’t have much knowledge of the 1941 classic, but Mank shouldn’t be ignored. It’s documentations of real life events and ambitious filmmaking style should make it more than enough to at least give it a watch.
FINAL RATING:- 8/10 (GREAT)