Movie Plot – Mank: The Hollywood of the thirties is re-evaluated through the eyes of the destructive social critic and alcoholic screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz.
Director: David Fincher
Writer: Jack Fincher
Cast: Gary Oldman, Amanda Seyfried, Lily Collins
Be prepared for Mank
For starters, if you’ve never heard of Citizen Kane, I would advise you not to watch this film. The film is sometimes confusing, which will only worsen if you don’t know anything about the masterpiece, Citizen Kane.
Also, this film is for people who love cinema’s art and everything that’s behind it. That also means the bad stuff and the complications that it involves. If you like to watch movies for pure entertainment, then I really don’t recommend it. Mank is more a study on the screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz. It’s not really about the creation of the story of Citizen Kane. We see how Mankiewicz was and in what situation he was before writing this script. Don’t expect a story of the making of the famous movie, but rather a complicated story about the man himself.
And it’s been six years since David Fincher made another movie. In recent years he’s mainly focused on TV, including the rock-solid Netflix series Mindhunter, which I haven’t seen yet. I was really blown away by his latest film, Gone Girl. That film was more accessible to other people. However, if you expect something in that same feeling, you will be bitterly disappointed. Mank is Fincher at his most traditional because the film had to look, sound and feel as much as possible like a movie from the forties.
First and foremost, the scriptwriter Herman Mankiewicz, better known to everyone as ‘Mank’, was an alcoholic. The film made this very clear from the beginning.
While everyone thinks he’s way past his peak, in 1940, he starts his screenplay for what will eventually become Citizen Kane. His and director Orson Welles’ masterpiece, often praised as the best film ever made. From a hospital bed in a remote ranch, he dictates his wonderful lines to secretary Rita. Soon she realizes which powerful man this story is about, namely media magnate William Randolph Hearst.
By looking through flashbacks, we see how Mank, played by the great Gary Oldman, slips from the sweetheart at rich parties to a wreckage that has sabotaged itself so many times that he has nowhere to go. He gains a special friendship with Hearst’s mistress Marion Davies – Amanda Seyfried at her very best – and gets involuntarily involved in California’s governor elections. But above all, he shows himself to be someone with an unprecedentedly sharp tongue. And that takes him to unprecedented heights as well as unimaginably deep in trouble.
Oldman sounds like a magnified character from a screwball comedy, but also knows how to ground Mank as a living person with a lot of interesting character flaws.
David Fincher is one of my favorite directors. He has made great movies like Fight Club. In addition, Mank looks beautiful in black and white. The camera moves a lot less than in Fincher’s earlier films, but also in the static format, he knows how to shoot brilliantly. The film really did have a Citizen Kane feel to it. For example, the falling snow globe from the opening scene is replaced by an emptied bottle of anesthetic. Finally, the sound is entirely in the style of mono-soundtracks, including period music composed by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross.
No matter how much artistic ingenuity there is in this film, I have to admit that I didn’t enjoy it. However, I do appreciate the film for its cinematography, but the story didn’t interest me. On the other hand, I am happy to know more about Mank, himself, and Hollywood’s world at that time. I know I may sound confusing right now, but the bottom line is that I appreciate the movie, but I do not enjoy watching it.
Consciously or unconsciously, in a year with fewer cinema releases, this has become a prestige project anyway. Is Mank guaranteed Oscar profit next year? I’m pretty sure it is.
Before you would watch this movie, I recommend watching Citizen Kane anyway. It’s not a must but highly recommended. Afterward, you can see Mank, and then you get an artistic film history.