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Mank – Movie Review

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Mank – Movie Review

Rating: A- (Great)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy Netflix

Citizen Kane is deservedly hailed as one of the greatest films of all-time, thanks to Orson Welle’s brilliant and innovate directing and the nonlinear structure involved in telling the story of media tycoon Charles Foster Kane. Herman J. Mankiewicz played an important role in the film, bringing with him his intimate knowledge of William Randolph Hearst and his mistress Marion Davies. Mank seeks to shine a spotlight on the screenwriter, although it’s hard not to wonder how much Pauline Kael’s infamous essay “Raising Kane” will affect the on-screen events. Thankfully, director David Fincher is mostly interested in portraying someone seeing the inner workings of Hollywood and coping with his personal demons. Mank isn’t really about the making of Citizen Kane, but rather about someone wondering about his place in Tinseltown.

Using the director’s father Jack Fincher’s screenplay as a basis, Mank follows a curious narrative and it’s mostly told through a series of flashbacks. These provide a peek into Classic Hollywood, with an emphasis on MGM as run by Louis B. Mayer. For fans of movies from the Golden Age, these sections are filled with references to everyone from the Marx Brothers to Ben Hecht. One wonders how someone not familiar with movies of the time period will respond. You either know who Irving Thalberg was and how important he was to MGM or you don’t and Fincher doesn’t hold your hand. Mank is depicted as someone part of the writer’s circle, but not exactly a power player and it’s fascinating looking at the studio lots through his eyes.

There’s a heavy emphasis on Mank and Davies’s friendship, which is depicted as close and trusting. Davies was very intelligent and Welles later grew to regret that so many people associated Kane’s shrill mistress with her. Mank respects Davies by showing someone with a mind of her own, who happens to be connected with one of the most powerful people in the United States. Amanda Seyfried captures those smarts exceptionally well and she has plenty of nice scenes with Gary Oldman as Mank. Oldman portrays Mank’s despair and multilayered personality through the many flashbacks and the sequences with him bedridden working on Citizen Kane. The film shows how pivotal he was to the film, while also depicting his drunk tendencies and the need for Welles and John Houseman to keep a close watch over him.

Welles isn’t in the film for long, which is understandable, when looking at its structure. The concern is there over whether Mank will take the controversial stance that the Citizen Kane screenplay was all Mankiewicz’s doing. However, the movie makes it clear that Mankiewicz was one piece of the puzzle and that Welles brought plenty to the table by editing and revising his ideas. Fincher and cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt do an impressive job of recreating the look of classic films, with extra credit also going to production designer Donald Graham Burt. Meanwhile, Trent Rezner and Atticus Ross’s score has the appropriate jazzy sound and Kirk Baxter’s editing allows the over two-hour runtime to fly by.

Mank gives voice to a talented writer who faced a lot during his time, while also recognising his faults and why he needed collaborators. David Fincher’s direction wonderfully brings the period setting to life and it does the job of transporting the viewer back in time. Mank will admittedly appeal mostly to cinephiles who frequently watch Turner Classic Movies. If you know your film history, it’s a treat. However, the film also throws in political subjects and it works well as a character study, too. If Fincher’s intention was to make this a worthy double feature with Citizen Kane, he has succeeded.

Stefan Ellison