Director David Fincher (Fight Club, Zodiac) makes a socio-political hero out of Herman J. Mankiewicz in this biopic that chronicles the boozy screenwriter’s tribulations writing Citizen Kane. Gary Oldman plays ‘Mank,’ who we first meet laid up in bed with a broken leg, tasked with writing Kane during sixty days of physical and alcoholic recovery. Flashbacks uncover the inspiration behind the script, based on Mank’s observations of newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst (Game of Thrones‘ Charles Dance) and his pedestalled young wife, Marion Davies (Mean Girls‘ Amanda Seyfried). Mank also spars with MGM studio boss Louis B. Mayer (Arliss Howard) and his controlling major domo, Irving Thalberg (Ferdinand Kingsley) — who use Hearst’s money to create false advertising (or ‘fake news’) to swing California’s mayoral election. In the end, Mank is seemingly fighting the world — including Kane director Orson Welles (Tom Burke) — not only to have the film made, but to get credit for writing it.
Mank is a fairly esoteric film aimed at Hollywood history buffs and political junkies. Uninitiated audiences may find themselves struggling to keep up with Jack Fincher’s dense, fast-moving screenplay and David Fincher’s equally fast-talking cast. (Jack is David’s father, who wrote the script before his passing in 2003.) For film buffs, the movie is a gem. From its chromatic 1930s photography and period reconstruction, to actors playing numerous well-known industry figures, Mank is a Tinseltown valentine. The rebuke of Hollywood’s knack for crushing souls in the name of greed is nothing new, but the condemning portrayals of Welles and Thalberg are provocative. Oldman’s scenes with Seyfried, including an evening stroll through Hearst’s private zoo, are among the most touching.
Craftsmanship and cinema lore are good reasons to recommend Mank, but it’s also interesting to discover so many parallels between the late 1930s and the early 2020s. Media titans fighting for political power, fake news duping the masses, evil amassing overseas… Is the past prologue, or are we stuck in some shitty remake?
Academy Awards: Best Cinematography, Production Design
Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Director, Actor (Gary Oldman), Supporting Actress (Amanda Seyfried), Sound, Score (Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross), Costume Design, Makeup & Hairstyling