Mank tells the story screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz’s journey in writing 1941’s Citizen Kane, a film that many critics and scholars consider to be the greatest film of all-time. But Mank isn’t a typical biopic about a man and his crowning career achievement. This is a behind-the-curtain look at the Hollywood system in the 1930’s and 1940’s, the moguls who ran it, and a troubled man who just happened to write one of cinema’s greatest films.
Mank kicks off in 1940. Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman), or as his everyone knows him as, Mank, is an alcoholic, a gambler, and washed up in Hollywood. He has just been given the opportunity that he’s been looking for in writing the debut screenplay for 24-year-old wunderkind Orson Welles (Tom Burke). Following a car accident that has put him in a full leg cast, Mank has been sent to a ranch in California to conjure up this screenplay in a mere sixty days.
The film jumps back-and-forth in time between Mank writing the screenplay in 1940 and his time working with MGM studios in the 1930’s. During this time, Mank, still an alcoholic and gambler, is one of Hollywood’s premiere screenwriters. He’s known all around town and even attends events with legendary head of MGM Louis B. Mayer (Arliss Howard). Mank’s social circle gets even bigger when he impresses newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst (Charles Dance) with his wit and humor. Mank now has a front-row ticket to Hearst, Mayer, and everyone in their social circle, giving him a perfect subject matter for his screenplay.
Mank is directed by David Fincher and it is yet another masterful effort from the Oscar-nominated director. Fincher is one of the most technically brilliant filmmakers working today and Fincher flexes all of his muscles in Mank. Shot in stunning black and white, this is arguably the best looking movie of 2020, as the film feels like it was pulled right out of the 40’s. The score by frequent Fincher collaborators Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross is outstanding, the editing is swift, and the subtle digital effects are top-notch, particularly in a scene where Mank is walking on the Hearst estate with Hearst’s mistress Marion Davies (Amanda Seyfried). It’s a beautiful sequence that features lavish gardens, huge landscapes, elephants, giraffes, and monkeys, yet it all looks so real and authentic.
Written by Fincher’s late father Jack Fincher, this is a movie that brings us behind the scenes of Hollywood. The film shows us the happenings at the studios and brings us into the pitch sessions, the meetings, and shows the political hierarchy and how strings get pulled depending where the money is. It’s really a cinephile’s dream to watch all of this go down. It gives us a look movies rarely show us and it’s compelling from minute one. Mank also shows Hollywood’s influence on U.S. politics and some of the conversations about the media’s influence on the American people seemed very familiar to today’s political landscape. There is a lot of dissect in Mank and it will take a couple viewings to take it all in and break it down. Luckily, Mank is a great watch and you’ll want to watch it again as soon as it is over.
My favorite part of Mank is Fincher’s dissection of a tortured genius. Much like Fincher’s best film, The Social Network, this is a film that looks at a troubled and tortured genius and the people he must go up against in order to succeed, with his biggest enemy being himself. Gary Oldman gives one of the best performances of his career as Mank. It’s a layered, sad, sometimes funny, subtly physical performance that Oldman knocks out of the park. I couldn’t help but think of Fincher and his own career when watching Mank. Known as a perfectionist with somewhat of a prickly personality, there have been times in his career in which he wasn’t able to get his way or when studios would step in his way. Mank himself was a unique personality who took the gig for writing for Welles after he agreed Welles would get sole writing credit, even though he barely contributed. But once Mank realizes this screenplay was the best of his career, he wants to fight for what his work and fight for his art. Mank is a look at the creation of art and a tortured artist.
Mank features masterful filmmaking, a great script, excellent performances, and a layered, compelling story. David Fincher continues to prove why he is one of the best directors working in Hollywood. This film is very different from Fincher’s other efforts, but the quality is still there. Mank is one of the very best movies of 2020.
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