There are few films that have generated such concersation this year than David Fincher’s new film, Mank. Following Hollywood screenwriter, Herman J. Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman) and the inception and creation of Orson Welles’ masterpiece, Citizen Kane, Mank is not your regular run-off-the-mill Hollywood film that glorifies filmmaking. Fincher looks into the dark side of film production and the manipulation that happens behind the scenes. Admittedly, I wasn’t sure what to expect going in beyond it having an amazing cast and crew and the backlash it appears to be receiving on social media but I personally loved it. Not only in its black and white appearance but the tone and direction reflects Citizen Kane which at points blends fact and fiction as Mank begins to succumb to the alcoholism that haunts him.
David Fincher’s direction is fantastic as ever and I truly think this may be the film that puts an Oscar in his hands. Based on a screenplay written by his late father, Jack Fincher, Mank is an intricate character study into the mind of a brilliant man who is challenged by the rules and regulations of the Hollywood Studios. In many ways, Mank feels as though you are watching a film from the Golden Age at points but from a behind-the-scenes vantage point. What is fantastic about how Fincher directs is the shift in tone. There are many points that feel like a thriller or even horror as Mank descends in madness while writing the project. The whole span of the film is sixty days and yet the amount of action feels as though it spans years. The passion Fincher has, arguably in part due to adapting his late father’s script, is evident and I think he does a flawless job at conveying the darkness that lies beneath the glamour. What is brilliant about Fincher’s films is that each one is completely different from the other. He truly is one of the most exciting filmmakers working today, even if his filmography isn’t the most extensive.
Gary Oldman’s performance has played a major part of the discussion in the conversations regarding the film. Playing a man 20 years his junior does seem a little miscast but look beyond this and there lies an amazing performance. Mank is such a layered man who loves his craft and his lifestyle yet isn’t afraid to bite the hand that feeds him. He treasures his friendships but risks it all in the name of his sharp wit and even harsher writing. Oldman is undoubtedly one of the best living actors and although Mank isn’t the best performance of his whole career, it’s still a fantastic turn.
The support in this film comes from Amanda Seyfried who, in my opinion, is the highlight of the film for me. Playing 1930s Hollywood icon, Marion Davies was no easy feat. During the Golden Age of Hollywood, Davies was well-known and admired and unfortunately her affair with William Randolph Hearst (Charles Dance) is what history associates her with. Seyfried will no doubt be nominated for a Best Supporting Actress and I really hope she wins. She’s given flawless performances, particularly in comedies in her early career such as Mean Girls (2004) and Jennifer’s Body (2009). Mank is a welcome dramatic stretch for her while still maintaining the intelligent wit Davies possessed. From her first scene, Seyfried is magnetic in the same nostalgic way the leading ladies were commanded to be.
There are many scenes in Mank that have stayed with me but the one that is the true standout is when Mank begins to discuss his plans for his upcoming film at a dinner that is attended by Marion Davies, Louis B. Mayer (Arliss Howard) and William Randolph Hearst no less. Oldman’s phenomenal acting in this scene is horrendously intense and extremely uncomfortable as he insults and berates the guests at the dinner before setting his attention on Hearst and discrediting his name and political career. Watching Mank make his way slowly around the table as the guests start to leave one by one until only Mank, Mayer and Hearst are the only ones left.
Overall, Mank is a fantastic insight into the overlooked mind behind what is often considered the greatest film ever made. The similarities in filming style of Citizen Kane and Mank are evident that go beyond the black and white stylistic choice. Citizen Kane may be about Hearst but really the creation of the film is primarily about Mank himself and his outlook on the world. Watching Citizen Kane with this new outlook will definitely make it a different experience. I have also been thinking of writing a David Fincher ranking list and it’ll be interesting to see where Mank would fall.
What did you think of Mank? Let me know in the comments below!
Mank is available to stream now on Netflix.