There are but a few directors working today that once it’s known a new feature film is being released by them, the world goes mad, people lose their minds. Rightly so, they should because whatever these directors touch turns to gold. There are always a few missteps here or there, that’s the human part about being human, nobody is perfect and everyone no matter who it is can have a bad day at the office. Luckily, that bad day at the office hasn’t come for director David Fincher, although some could argue that Alien 3 wasn’t his best.
Everything succeeding Alien 3 has been a surefire sensation that has propelled Fincher to be in those “Best of” conversations. Even with the few nominations for best director – the award has so far eluded him. Mank quite possibly could change that for Fincher at the next academy awards (if there is one). Fincher like Nolan, Villeneuve, Scorsese & Spielberg all have specific feelings and styles emitted from their respective films. Fincher is excellent at diving headfirst into the mind and psyche of someone and exploring what makes them tick while keeping a level of tension steady throughout.
To be a fly on the wall while one of the greatest films of all time was written and crafted over the course of 60 days is one thing but to watch it come to life is another. Mank follows Herman J. Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman) as he races against the clock and his uncontrollable alcoholism to write and deliver a script for director Orson Welles (Tom Burke). While recovering from a leg injury that comes from a car accident, Mank takes place in both present day 1940 and in the past dating back as early as 1930 while embracing the relationships he makes and breaks throughout the decade.
“I thought I told you, Mank. I have final cut, final everything. There are no studio notes. We’ll have no one but ourselves to blame.”
It’s less about the screenplay of Citizen Kane and more heavily focused on the alcoholic mind that produced the 300-page first draft of the film. The scenes in the past focus heavily on Mank (that’s what he wanted people to call him) and his blossoming relationship with Marion Davies (Amanda Seyfried), his involvement in politics and his fractured relationships with fellow collaborators and co-workers. The Kane screenplay is teased as the main focus but once the script is finished all we hear about it is how brilliant it is and how it’s the best work Mank had ever written.
“You cannot capture a man’s entire life in two hours. All you can hope is to leave the impression of one.” This is probably the most important, most self-aware and relatable quote to the film, Mank himself and to Fincher all in one. It’s alarming how accurate this quote is. Written by his late father Jack Fincher in the 90’s, this one line tells you more about the film than anything else written in the screenplay. Every single character in a Fincher film could easily have that quote compared to. It fits this film like a glove because it’s true – majority of us will never know the real Mank or get to hear first accounts of what actually happened in the creation of Kane, all we can get is the impression from his presence on screen to convey this time in his life.
Fincher is a master technician and craftsman with his films. It’s why he’s at the top of his profession. The attention to detail he brings to each project is unrivaled and Mank is no different. To get the true vintage Hollywood feeling Fincher doesn’t just transform a city block like Tarentino does in OUATIH, Fincher films Mank in gorgeous black and white which instantly transports you to that time period. The choice of going black and white makes the film feel more pristine while the attention to detail is still there as the cigarette burns flash in the corner every so often (Thanks Tyler!). It’s that precision that makes Mank feel authentic with all the advancements technology has to offer. Every scene is crisp and gives off a perfect sense of contrast with the color palette.
“Why, no need to be humble, Mr. Mankiewicz. Pictures that talk are the future. They’re going to need people who honor words, give them voice. There’s a golden age coming when all the world will be a stage, and you, perhaps, their Shakespeare.”
There is no question that the look and feel of the time period can steal your attention. It’s not that Mank is a love letter to the time period itself but it’s a love letter to Citizen Kane and it mirrors Kane in many ways. The point isn’t to rip off Kane but to pay its respects to and honor what critics have called “The Greatest Movie of All Time”.
If Mank is anything, at its core and foundation it’s a character study. Fincher decides to focus on his characters alcoholic tendencies and abrasive behavior toward others. He’s a smart ass who doesn’t know when to shut up and stop talking. Oldman gives an astounding performance that makes it easy to sympathize with him but that’s as far as goes. It’s more difficult to form a sincere connection to Mank because of his personality. Instead, it’s the women in Mank’s life that are more interesting to watch on screen. Seyfried steals the spotlight whenever she’s on screen with Oldman. Other characters like Rita Alexander (Lily Collins) and “Poor” Sara (Tuppence Middleton) aren’t quite developed enough given that most of the focus is on Mank and Davies.
Unlike other Fincher films Mank’s pacing is on the slower side allowing scenes to be drawn out longer than they frankly need to be. Where this drawn-out slower pace works is where Mank shows up drunk to a banquet hosted by William Randolph Hurst (Charles Dance) where he proceeds to give an idea of a reimagined modern Don Quixote. Fincher utilizes his specialty with this particular scene. The tension could be cut with a knife as Mank rounds the table in his drunk stupor and its the body language from the others including Marion that make this scene pop the most out of the film.
Mank is an ode to the cinephile. Its technically brilliant and beautifully directed. If one thing is certain Hollywood loves films that glorify Hollywood – look at Once Upon a Time in Hollywood by Tarentino. For those that may not have an invested interest in this industry or in the history of a film of the magnitude of Citizen Kane this may not peak that person’s interest. The writing, performance and look of this film is excellent but the pacing of the film and some of the flashbacks editing show this film’s minor weak spots. If I were to rate Mank, I’d rate it a 4 out of 5.
So, tell me, have you seen Mank and if so, what do you think about it? Do you agree or disagree with me? Comment below or send me an email and let me know what you think.
Mank is written by Jack Fincher and directed by David Fincher is Rated R and has an 85% on Rotten Tomatoes. Mank was released on December 4, 2020 and has a runtime of 2 hours and 11 minutes. Mank can be streamed by its distributor on Netflix.