A treat for cinephiles, not so much for casuals, “Mank” is the property of a director who helms technical wizardry but lacks the nuance of a real writer. Where “Citizen Kane” excelled in emotion and style, “Mank” screams to the rafters for recognition. Some respect is acknowledged, yet ultimately the film’s heart is drowned through its intoxicating approach, croaking right when it gets good. Like “Kane,” “Mank” might be the victim of a critic who doesn’t have the time for another viewing before handing over his verdict.
I don’t intend to be flippant. I think there’s more to “Mank” than I can conceive upon a first impression. Adapting his late father’s screenplay, David Fincher is coming from a personal place. His distaste for the Hollywood machine is in full display, bravely exposing the greed of a contentious industry. The respect a screenwriter deserves is often buried where the credit of the actual craftsman of the page is left in the dust due to others’ egos. Like the movies, we admire the images on the screen rather than the artful words placed on the page.
Fincher respectfully tries to capture the love a writer has for the language he types out. Sadly, that process is lost through an overly self-referential film, leaving a semi cinephile like myself feeling confused. If I’m lost, imagine how frustrated the average Joe will feel when “Mank” crosses its first act that contains the style of an Aaron Sorkin screenplay set in the late 1930s. Here, the spoken word is merely annunciated rather than felt. If I may sound so daring, Mr. Fincher presents us with the love for his dad through his old man’s words; unfortunately, he doesn’t seem to get the meaning beyond the script’s stark themes.
he cinematography is dazzling. For the first time, I’m blown away by the images a RED camera can produce. It might be because the movie was naturally shot in black and white, eliminating its often hastily color corrected hues and curves projected on the RED’s overtly digital dry canvass that was designed by computer programers instead of cinematographers. For a film set in the 1930s shot on digital, I thought it would be an amateur film student’s mockery of an attempt to capture the beauty of another era. But color me stupid; this movie is a visual stunner. The lighting blaring through the windows is something that would make Steven Spielberg’s D.P. (Director of Photography) Janusz Kaminski, jump with joy. When people say that digital pops, this right here is what they mean; hopefully, I’ll change my mind on the RED after this picture.
Throwing a delightful curveball, Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross forgo their synthesized grunge metal for a useful callback to the classic era of cinema emphasized by your usual horns that one would associate with a Humphrey Bogart film.Beyond the score, the sound mix is the perfect emulation of a rough analog track from another generation without exaggerating its effect where the dialogue can still be heard, unlike a Christopher Nolan flick. Aside from “The Artist,” we are experiencing one of the few cinematic instances that marvelously mirrors the time it’s set in. It is a tragedy that the theaters are shut down because of a series of harsh circumstances. “Mank” is meant to be seen on the newest digital projector with the crispest sound imaginable to show how outstanding the digital medium has become. If Netflix can present “The Irishman” on select big screens, they can effortlessly deliver a picture that’s a quarter of its length here.
Bringing Jack Fincher’s words to life, the cast is admirable. As always, Gary Oldman is spectacular in the titular role of famed Hollywood screenwriter Herman J Mankiewicz. Copying the youth, beauty, and vulnerability of a woman left with no option of choice in her life, Amanda Seyfried does her best to break our hearts with her portrayal of starlet Marion Davies. Playing the infamous Orson Welles as straight as one can, Tom Burke doesn’t aim for the uncanny valley but targets a middle ground. Burke not only captures Welles’ charm but also displays his dominating presence with his stern voice resembling a Godly appearance of intimidation attempting to assert himself onto others. Alas, the man that crafted Manks’ Charles Foster Kane, William Randolf Hearst (Charles Dance), isn’t the looming insecure coward you’d imagine but more of a two-faced figure. Dance makes Hearst appealing one moment, then like a light switch, a cutthroat resemblance of power the next.
There are so many layers to “Mank” I feel the need to go back. Like spotting the clues in “Citizen Kane” itself, I may not be appreciating what I have seen on my first go around. By the time the credits rolled, I wanted more emotion. Attempting to mimic the events of “Citizen Kane” “Mank” doesn’t understand the tragedy of Charles Foster Kane. “Kane” is the blueprint for every story about how power can lead to a man’s downfall. “Mank” starts with our protagonist being at his lowest point, then never-changes throughout the picture. He’s plastered from beginning to middle to end. We understand there’s a caring, nihilistically self-deprecating man who wants to break free from his insecure shell, but once he does, the movie ends before he makes any real change. In the case of Charles Foster Kane, there’s a clear emotional evolution we see unfold on screen, leaving the audience to yearn for the main character.
I appreciate Fincher’s attempt at resonating the agony of the writing process, along with the corruption of Hollywood. To my dismay, I can’t help but think of other films that capture the process better. “Adaptation” and “The Player” come to mind. Watching Mank lay in bed drunk most of the time, then go around to lavish parties by the other half like a Federico Fellini character doesn’t strike the correct chord for me when it comes to Mank’s fall from grace. We are given an incredible monologue towards the end that exposes Mank’s inherent character flaw. If only that raw emotion were more present throughout the picture, could I understand the pain that Herman J. Mankiewicz endured throughout his life. Feasibly my rating below could change upon a second viewing giving David Fincher the respect he deserves.