As one of our generation’s most heralded directors, any film David Fincher attaches his name to is always a hot prospect. Since the major success of 2014’s Gone Girl, Fincher has mostly focused on TV for Netflix, producing their hit shows Mindhunter and Love, Death & Robots. His latest collaboration with the streaming behemoth, though, sees him make a welcome return to the director’s chair. Entitled Mank, Fincher attempts to tell the tale behind one of cinema’s most heralded creations, Citizen Kane.
Adapting a screenplay from his father Jack Fincher, the story is told through the lens of Herman ‘Mank’ Mankiewicz, the screenwriter tasked with penning Orson Welles’ magnum opus. A washed-up drunk, the story jumps between Mank’s bed-ridden rush to finish the screenplay and a moving trip down memory lane that showcases the inspiration for his legendary story. The episodic nature of the film finds parallels with Citizen Kane, supported by sublime editing. At times, the film did feel a little slow, but the transitions between scenes are gorgeously reminiscent of classic Hollywood. Each one is carefully woven into the other and the story remains in continuous flow throughout, despite its meandering. Mank’s conversational scenes, like matches of verbal tennis, are delicately balanced and wonderfully watchable. It’s impossible to take your eyes away as opinions and witty comments travel back and forth around rooms, each actor delivering their lines to perfection.
Where this film excels with its storytelling is when it’s at its most political. Fincher is no stranger to politics, but here, he is unrelenting in his takedowns of the industry he so passionately cares about. It’s quite something to witness such a bold criticism of the Machiavellian world of filmmaking and the film’s message cuts deep. It’s deftly handled and never heavy-handed, highlighting the magic of making the films we hold so dear while asking the industry to do better, to learn from its past mistakes. Whether or not this will happen remains to be seen, but Fincher’s film is a profound plea to make Hollywood live up to its near-mythical status.
From a craft perspective, it’s easy to see why many predict Mank will be the most-nominated film at the upcoming Oscars. The film, shot entirely in black and white by the brilliant director of photography Erik Messerschmidt, is visually delectable. The combination of lighting and provocative framing makes for some searingly powerful images that will make for many an excellent @OnePerfectShot post. With Zodiac and Mindhunter, we’ve previously seen Fincher’s ability to create stunningly photorealistic recreations of time periods. Here, it’s 1930’s Hollywood; every element of this tumultuous time of depression and ambition is captured perfectly.
To create such sense of longing and fabricated nostalgia for a time long gone, despite the film’s political message, is a wonderful testament to the technical mastery on display. The production design, costumes, hair and makeup all combine to create such an immersive feel to the film. Equally, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ sublime, period-capturing score and some crisp sound design further heightens this rewarding dedication to world-building. Also, the hypnotic gaze cast on the film via Mank’s mind really matches the twists and turns of this alcohol-fuelled account of Hollywood history.
Leading Mank as the eponymous screenwriting legend is the evergreen, Gary Oldman. Here, he utilises all of his chameleonic talents to wholly embody Mank, imbuing him with a razor-sharp charm that makes him such an easy-to-root-for protagonist. His slurred speech is fuelled with passion, wit and care that leaves you hanging on his every word. Where many of the film’s characters find themselves simply in awe of Mank, it’s effortless for the audience to feel that way about this famous scribe too. It seems a safe bet to say Oldman will be lining up with the Best Actor nominees come the Oscars.
Throughout her surprisingly long career, Amanda Seyfried has shown glimpses of her talent and appeared in some great projects. However, her turn as Marion Davies, Mank’s muse, is a career-best that could propel her to Oscar glory in the Supporting Actress category. Her mannerisms, line delivery and chemistry are a marvel and she really helps bring Mank to life. Equally present in the film is a noticeably improved performance from Lily Collins, who acts as a multifaceted foil but a dear friend to Mank through the film, making for some of the more touching moments. Finally, capping off an excellent ensemble of supporting actresses is Tuppence Middleton, portraying Mank’s loyal, ever-suffering wife ‘Poor’ Sara. There’s a temperance in her performance that’s so controlled and subdued but her affability bursts through into the character. With limited screen time, she makes her presence felt on-screen.
On the whole, Mank is simply irresistible. It’s a thrilling, moving and ultimately triumphant account of a historical moment in cinematic history. Though it slows up at times, Fincher never falters in his ability to criticise an outdated culture and convey a passionate message that rings so true in today’s world. He does this whilst delivering eye-catching visuals, slick editing and showcasing a dedication to the film’s timeframe that fully immerses the viewer into this almost-mythical world. Supported by star turns from a perfectly chosen cast, it’s inevitable that Mank will be a big player at the Oscars.
Words by Elliott Jones
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