Looking at Hollywood through a glass half empty - Mank
After six years, Fincher has returned and is bringing you back to the past.
Mank follows social critic and alcoholic writer Herman J. Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman), as he is recruited by young filmmaker Orson Welles (Tom Burke) to write the screenplay for his newest film Citizen Kane. Documenting Mankiewicz’s relationship with Hollywood actress Marion Davies (Amanda Seyfried) and her partner William Randolph Hearst (Charles Dance) Mank explores the many relationships of Mankiewicz, including that with his sectary Rita Alexander (Lily Collins).
This has been a passion project for Fincher, as the screenplay was written by his late father Jack Fincher. Citizen Kane is considered to be one of the greatest films ever made, if not the greatest, and the history behind it is just as interesting. One of the biggest myths of the film is that Citizen Kane’s titular character was based on real-life newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst.
In real life, Hearst wanted to destroy the film, and one of the reasons why was because he believed Susan Kane (the wife of the titular character of Citizen Kane) was based on Marion Davies.
Oldman delivers once again in the titular role as Herman Mankiewicz. Mankiewicz is seen to be drunk for most of the film, and Oldman is so good, I wouldn't be shocked if he actually got drunk on set. He is able to capture the drunken distanced stare, the slumbering walk, as he stumbles over his own sentences.
Amanda Seyfried holds her own with Oldman, as she nails Marion Davies's dialect and accent, and could even be mistaken for a 1930s Hollywood actress. Seyfried was previously in several big films such as Mamma Mia, and Ted, but ever since then, it is almost like she went MIA, as if Hollywood soured on her, or her agent lost a lot of bets. Hopefully, this film will get her back in the limelight.
There is not much to say about Tom Burke as he is not seen that much in the film, but other than that, he does a great impression of Welles as he emulates his booming voice.
Mank is a very different film from Fincher, not just aesthetically and conceptually, but even politically.
Fincher is not known for being political, but the politics of the era are touched upon here. In real life, Mankiewicz was a staunch supporter of Democrat/Socialist candidate Upton Sinclair (Bill Nye), and the film shows how unethical campaign tactics were used against Sinclair, which led to him losing the 1934 California gubernatorial election.
The biggest selling point of Mank is how it was filmed like a film from the 1930s/40s. The first detail that strikes viewers, is the opening title card, which is accompanied by an outstanding score by Atticus Ross and Trent Reznor.
There are many things that Fincher did to capture this style. The film was shot with RED Monstrochrome 8K cameras, but the image was purposely degraded with fake cigarette burns, scratches, and cracks. Fincher has also said that he used old microphones to make the film sound like it was from the 1930s/40s. It is incredibly well made, as Fincher pays tribute to Welles, using natural light in several scenes which bear many similarities to famous scenes from Citizen Kane.
There is a lot to praise here, however going back to what I said earlier about how this is not a typical Fincher film, it is not completely a good thing. This film is a fine and enjoyable history lesson. But that's the problem, it's just fine.
I keep thinking about the style, and it makes me wonder, what exactly was the purpose of it? It neither criticises nor praises it. For a Netflix original, it's good, but for a film by Fincher, its very pedestrian.
I was expecting a scene where Fincher does a 180 in the middle of the film, breaks convention, and challenges the old Hollywood model of directing, but this never happens. Even a film such as Fight Club broke the fourth wall and challenged typical forms of storytelling, but Mank never does this.
Fellow Fresh Take writer Stefanos Florakis took the words right out of my mouth when he described it in conversation saying- “The script was written like a good biopic from the 1980s or 90s, hence not working well in this era.” It is no coincidence either that Fincher wanted to direct this film after he finished directing The Game back in 1997. Mank feels 20 years too late. In creating the old conservative style of Hollywood filmmaking, Fincher inadvertently creates a generic conservative Hollywood film. If this film were made years ago, Fincher would have attempted to conceptualise it, but here he strangely chooses to play it safe, and therefore there is no formal meaning for this constructed style.
Mank is not a bad film in the slightest, but it is difficult to recommend it. If you are interested in cinema and want to see powerhouse performances, then it is worth a watch, but if you are looking for more than that, there is not much to behold. Maybe I’ll eat my words one day, but there doesn't seem to be much re-watchability, and I highly doubt I will ever watch it again.
It is a great homage to the narrative structure of Hollywood films, but unfortunately, it does not become anything more than that. There is no real purpose to it other than it looking pretty, and being an interesting history lesson.
Perhaps I just have low standards for Netflix originals and high standards for Fincher?
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