The Golden Age of Hollywood. A prosperous and terrible time for everyone.
“Mank” is a film directed by David Fincher, best known for “Seven” and “Gone Girl,” and written posthumously by his father Jack Fincher. It’s available on Netflix as a Netflix original movie.
The movie follows Herman J. Mankiewicz, otherwise known as Mank, a drunken and washed-up Hollywood screenwriter. He is hired by Orson Welles to write the screenplay for Welles’ first film, “Citizen Kane,” while secluded on a ranch nursing a broken leg.
“Mank” is a great film that can be rather impressive at times, however it doesn’t quite reach the heights of the time-period it aims to replicate.
To start, Gary Oldman plays Mank. Oldman does a great job playing the drunk screenwriter and he gives an excellent and consistent performance. It’s easy to get lost in his performance as he becomes Mank, who is on the brink of losing everything. The only distraction is that Oldman is playing someone much younger than he is, by about a full 20 years, but it’s still an excellent performance.
The supporting cast does an excellent job as well. Of particular note is Amanda Seyfried as Marion Davies, Lily Collins as Mank’s secretary Rita Alexander, Charles Dance as William Randolph Hearst and Tom Burke as Orson Welles. They, along with everyone else do a great job at bringing this film to life.
Along with Oldman, the actors play into some of the stereotypes and mannerisms of 1940s Hollywood, which is what the movie aims to replicate. They do this quite well.
The overall story and structure of the film are quite interesting. The story is about Mank writing the screenplay for Welles. The film is structured in a way that intercuts the present-day Mank writing the film with flashback sequences from 1930 to the film’s present. These flashbacks show the real-life people that inspired Mank to write the screenplay and tell the story the way he did.
Overall, this film is modeled after “Citizen Kane,” especially in how it uses flashbacks as its primary means of conveying the story. This is even seen in Oldman’s performance, as he acts in reverse to how Welles acted in “Citizen Kane” by playing younger versions of himself instead of older ones.
Building on top of this, the film does its best to replicate films from the 1940s, most noticeably in how the film is shot.
The film is presented in beautiful black and white. It has excellent lighting, and it looks like a true black and white film, using grayscale to its advantage. It’s an incredible looking film and they even do the old Hollywood lighting transition by powering the lights off to fade to black. However, the film looks a little too clean, especially for the time period that it’s recreating. Still, the cinematography is top-notch.
The other noticeable aspect is the sound design. The film tries to replicate how a movie like “Citizen Kane” sounds. It does this well, as everything feels like it was re-recorded to add sound to the film just like an early Hollywood talkie. However, it takes some time to get used to, especially as it clashes with the crispness of the picture.
To add onto this, the score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross is incredible. They do a fantastic job at creating an old Hollywood score and it helps drive home some of what the film is trying to get across in its style. As a whole, the sound and score for this film are technically impressive.
The editing of the film is also worth discussing for a couple of reasons. In general, the editing is great, especially as it makes it clear when it cuts to flashbacks (it cleverly uses a slug line from a screenplay to indicate them). It also uses imperfections in the top right corner of the screen to indicate when to switch film reels (like a real film in theaters). Finally, its transitions using lighting are great. Overall, it is a well edited film that uses some stylish methods within the film.
David Fincher did a great job in crafting this film. It’s an interesting and well thought out film that does its best to recreate old Hollywood movies.
Unfortunately, “Mank” gets close but not close enough to what it seeks to recreate. Although each aspect is fantastic, it doesn’t fully work as a cohesive whole.
This is mostly in how the film looks, which contrasts with every technical aspect of the film. In this case, the film looks too good for what it’s going for. If it was shot on actual film, it might work to the movie’s benefit.
All of this is to say that “Mank” is impressive in its ambition and what it’s striving for. Even if it doesn’t quite reach its goal in some respects, it’s a well-crafted film with a lot of passion in it.
It won’t be remembered as one of Fincher’s best, but it is still a well-made film. “Mank” is worth watching especially for those with a love for film.