Directed by David Fincher | Released 2020 | Runtime 2h 11m
Mank is David Fincher’s biographical drama centred around screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz and his development of the screenplay for Citizen Kane (1941). The film is based on a screenplay by Fincher’s late father, Jack Fincher, and stars Gary Oldman (Darkest Hour), Amanda Seyfried (Les Misérables), Lily Collins (Love, Rosie), Arliss Howard (Moneyball), Tom Burke (Only God Forgives), and Charles Dance (Game of Thrones).
The film is surprisingly less a journal of Citizen Kane’s creation, but more about Mank’s attitude to his work and life. Mank is a scathing alcoholic who’s always got more to say than anyone in the room; he’s straight talking and brash, but he’s confident in his intelligence and behind the words he speaks. Mank also covers the discrepancies at MGM, studio finances, local elections, and the infamous rumour that Marion Davies was the inspiration behind the character of Susan Alexander Kane in Welles’ movie. In the two-hour runtime, there’s certainly a lot of backstory and characters to take in.
The look and feel of the film is worthy of appreciation, and Fincher does a fantastic job of sending audiences back into the era of classical Hollywood cinema. Entirely shot in black and white, whilst simultaneously using monaural sound to mimic the style of Citizen Kane and bleed authenticity, it’s easy to be tricked into forgetting that this film was in fact made in the last year. Mank is stylish and it doesn’t forget to offer you the best props from the golden age, be it the classical wheels, textured costumes and flamboyant outfits (including Marion Davies’s iconic drum majorette look with feathered short sleeves). Then there’s the intentionally synthetic backdrops (you didn’t think the driving scene down LA’s Wilshire Boulevard was real did you?). In fact, a lot of visual effects were used in order to create the perfect alignment of buildings and background visuals that were true to the time of the story.
Fincher also plays with expressionism which adds a bit of fun to the film. There are moments where figures loom over Mank in his bedridden state, and where Mank is an isolated silhouette amongst the shadows. Though playful, such frames signify the shift in power that goes back and forth between Welles and Mank as their battle over Citizen Kane’s true authorship impends. As for the movie’s score, it oozes melodrama, mystery and tension – another throwback to the 30s.
Casting wise, Oldman is fascinating and enjoyable to watch as he plays the cynic alcoholic wise-crack, whilst Seyfried serves up a heartfelt and vulnerable performance. Burke’s deep voice and representation of Welles’ presents him as a higher power, even though he’s absent from the screen for more time than you’d expect. Their co-stars are equally impressive, though it often feels like there are too many characters to keep up.
Mank isn’t without its disappointments though, and with the good, comes the bad. What weighs heavy whilst watching the film is the feeling that Fincher fans are missing out. Fincher’s known for his auteur style as a director but also for the remarkable plot twists and complex themes he amplifies through his consistent storytelling techniques. Mank’s story, however, feels jumbled and so full of detail to the point that you entirely lose where it’s going, or maybe it relies on the audience being more interested in the backroom talk than anything else. Ultimately, Mank’s scattered plot might be spread too thin for the unacquainted viewer, leaving them both bored and frustrated.
For the team at Screen Bunny, the great visual aspects of Mank aren’t quite enough to counteract the never-ending and slow-paced story. Fincher still has a special place in our hearts as one of our favourite directors, but this time, we’ll take Fight Club and Se7en any day.