When I look back at Mank, the first thing I remember is the sudden emergence of dark spots on the grey frame. It made me nostalgic somehow, despite I am neither born nor grew up with Black & White cinema. Or probably, it’s the rusty feeling that attracts me since I am a big admirer of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton films.
Mank is the story of a screenwriter named Herman J. Mankiewicz who has been forgotten due to the overwhelming popularity of parallel stars like Orson Welles and some influential but shrewd and sex-offender businessmen as well as his own ignorance to his value as a writer. The proof is that he was not given writing credits for many films in 30s, including the mega cult classic like The Wizard of Oz (1939). Through Mank, David Fincher has tried to give an ode to him by depicting his entire persona during his tenure of writing Citizen Kane that includes: His inspiration for the lead character of Citizen Kane, a realization of his potential, his struggle with alcoholism and the controversial fight with Orson Welles (a true prodigy) for the writing credit.
No, Herman J. Mankiewicz (famously, known as Mank) was no saint. He had his share of demerits in alcoholism, infidelity, stubbornness and nepotism but one thing that stands him apart everyone else was his outspoken nature with no-filter. Also, he was not always a genius. Mank never shies away from showing all of it along with the ugly truth behind Hollywood’s dreamy like image.
Oldman is Becoming Newer by Day
Gary Oldman as Mank is as akin as the real person from the body language to his less-than Shakespearean dialogue delivery and the mannerism. He is supported by excellent actors like Charles Dance as William Randolph Hearst (the newspaper on whom Citizen Kane is made), Arliss Howard as Louis B. Mayer (the producer and co-founder of MGM studios) and Amanda Seyfried as Marion Davies (an actress, Mr Hearst’s partner and almost an inspiration for another character in Citizen Kane). Personally, when I searched Marion Davies after finishing the film – I was amazed and curious to know about her life. Amanda Seyfried is incredibly nuanced in her role. The film also includes many small roles that cannot be neglected – Lily Collins, Tom Pelphrey, Jamie McShane, Sam Troughton, Tom Burke as Orson Welles and a special mention to Tuppence Middleton as Sara Mankiewicz.
Where’s Fincher Style?
As I hinted before, every single frame of Mank is reminiscent to 30s Hollywood era from the use of lighting (sometimes flat, sometimes shadowy – started with Citizen Kane) to artificial sets for natural background. Many would unknowingly be disappointed not to see David Fincher style in the film which they used to see in his many crime-mystery films. In my view, David Fincher is present in every frame from the use of vfx (you may not notice it, but it’s there) to dolly-fixed moving camera and super-cuts. His most visible style, you can feel in the dialogue scene with many characters in one set. The sharp cut from the subject who is talking to a small reaction to the character who is subject of the talk or affected by it to the other person who participates in that conversation. The entire sequence happens so fast that you may not notice but, trust me, your mind picks it up. The only thing that was missing is the fast Camera-Pan which is deliberate. In biography works, David Fincher already made two films The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (to screen from the novel) and The Social Network.
Watch It or Not?
Having praised all the way, I am still convinced that this film may not be for everyone except the fans of Citizen Kane, Black & White Cinema and David Fincher; definitely not for Orson Welles fans. Despite anything I say, give it a try and who knows you might like it. Currently streaming on Netflix.
PS: You must not be surprised if this film gets many nominations in Academy Award as everyone knows that it’s about Hollywood by Hollywood for Hollywood.
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