Mank Review: Fincher’s latest is stylistically immerses viewers into to a forgotten era of filmmaking
Kicking off Netflix’s big month of new film releases is the newest film from writer/director David Fincher, Mank, that showcases an impressive technical side to the director that we haven’t seen in quite sometime as he transports viewers back to the early era of Hollywood filmmaking to delve into the making of one of film’s history’s most iconic entries.
Catching the eye of RKO Pictures after his iconic radio broadcast, War of the Worlds, Orson Welles (Tom Burke) was given complete creative control of his next project and brings on prominent screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman) to help him write the script for it. Suffering from a horrifically short timetable to work with, damaging alcoholism, and a broken leg he recently sustained from a car accident, Mankiewicz, commonly referred to as “Mank,” must find inspiration in his past to create a compelling story for Welles. However, as he quickly tries to scrap something together, Mank begins to reflect on his time in Hollywood as well as his own life and takes that inspiration to write what would become Citizen Kane.
Frankly, I thought the last time I would see a new Welles film was The Other Side of the Wind back in 2018, but the style and sound of Mank really makes it feel like not only a film that’s ripped right from the early days of Hollywood, but one of Welles’. From the cigarette burns that can be spotted in the corners of the frame from time to time to the more muffled sound quality, Fincher really evokes the style of Welles like never before. Mix in the very jazzy score from the Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, the stunning black and white cinematography from Erik Messerschmidt, the great costume design from Trish Summerville, as well as the simple fade of scene transitions and you quickly realize that Fincher has brought the ultimate team along to create something that truly lives and breathes Welles. Even the way that Fincher captures certain scenes with particular positioning, angles, and movement really speaks to how committed he is to creating such an authentic viewing experience.
What really made it clear for me though that Mank expertly evokes the works of Welles and the early days of Hollywood is the fast-paced dialogue and script that comes from Fincher’s late father Jack. Even line feels like a clever wink with how smooth and somewhat smarmy it comes off and really feels reminiscent to seeing Welles play Kane in Citizen Kane. Some conversations carry this great energy with the words alone and draws you into the characters as well as adds to the personalities of the characters. The conversations between Welles and Mank are full of riveting energy that exudes from the dialogue and I loved the moment where Mank and actress Marion Davies (Amanda Seyfried) talk about her use of the word “nerts.” Fincher does such a great job bringing his script to life with his direction as well with how brings a great amount of energy and flow to certain scenes. There’s this great snap to the dialogue that instantly hooks you into the moment and this great scene of Mank and other writers pitching their movie that’s really fun to watch and has such a good bounce to it. All of the authenticity is brought out even more through the top-tier performances from the well-chosen cast.
Honestly, if you’re looking for someone to blend into a specific time period or personality, there’s no one better to get than Oldman – Hollywood’s best chameleon. He has such a knack for fitting into any role and making such a strong, distinct impression on-screen and he does it again here. Capturing the charm, persistence, bull-headed, and well-spoken nature of Mank, Oldman embodies both the determined artistic intellect that makes him an incredibly powerful screenwriter and the troubled man whose view of the world is slowly cracking as the artform he loves is being infected by outside forces and from the alcohol he consumes. It’s certainly an award-worthy performance that shows why he’s such a top-name in acting. There’s also great supporting performances from Seyfried as she carries a great screen presence with her delightful east coast accent and Charles Dance as Mank’s main inspiration for the character of Charles Kane, William Randolph Hearst, as he also carries an incredibly intimidating presence that makes you see how Mank became so inspired by him to create Citizen Kane.
All of this comes together in a narrative that, while intriguing at times, just doesn’t carry the same kind of emotional stakes or compelling storytelling that Fincher’s past works. Mank’s journey to inspiration to create Welles’ next film is one that’s cathartic in how it looks back at the early days of Hollywood and how the filmmaking business became a business. The film is less so about Mank working through the script page by page and character by character, but rather looking back at his time in Hollywood to reflect on his time in the business, the political and social battles that mucked up his views of those around him, and how using Hearst as his inspiration caused some controversy with Citizen Kane’s creation. It’s sort of about taking a peek behind the film industry’s veil and looking at someone who’s trying to retain artistic integrity in a time where the film industry is becoming more commercialized and filled with political influence. It’s certainly intriguing and strikes a relevant chord to today’s film industry but doesn’t make it the easiest to connect to.
Although I genuinely love everything that Fincher brings to this film, Mank isn’t one that I’m going to be itching to watch again anytime soon. It’s certainly a long and incredibly dull watch in comparison to Fincher’s other films and doesn’t carry the same kind of memorability that his other films have. The characters don’t change all that often, the story isn’t all that ambitious or full of big moments that reinvigorate your interest, and it’s honestly more a style over substance kind of viewing experience. Like I said before, the film really is an authentic reinvention of Welles’ work and early Hollywood films and the film doesn’t try to be anything more than the authentic look into Mank’s life that it is – and that’s fine. However, it’s hard not to miss the days of Fincher working with more wildly ambitious stories that hooked you on the thrill he could bring and big moments that leave viewers floored.
Mank is a great showing of how Fincher can get the right pieces to create a unique yet oddly familiar experience, but it’s certainly not his best. For cinephiles and those interested in an authentic look into the creation of one of the most iconic films in history, Fincher makes all of the best stylistic choices and mixes it with his late father’s superb script incredibly well. However, it’s hard to think that most will find the film to be equally enjoyable, especially in comparison to Fincher’s far superior films.