“Mank” is directed by David Fincher and stars Gary Oldman, Amanda Seyfried, Lily Collins, Charles Dance, Tom Burke and Arliss Howard. It follows Herman Mankiewicz’s journey while writing the script of “Citizen Kane.”
These thoughts are a result of having seen the film twice. The first viewing failed to grab my interest. The cinematography, production design and costume design are great, but the narrative and its cohesion were the biggest disconnect. So, days later, I rewatched it with subtitles, and it surprisingly engaged me with its story.
Whenever a cinephile is asked “which is the best/greatest film ever made?” there’s a good possibility their response is “Citizen Kane.” Having seen “Citizen Kane” a few months ago, I understand why it’s one of the most influential movies in history. With several film history courses under my belt, Fincher’s newest project was one of great interest.
“Mank” opens with credits from films of the ‘30s and ‘40s Hollywood era accompanied by a typewriter font informing the viewers the time and location of the scene. In fact, the font is constant during the flashbacks. Mank (Gary Oldman) is an alcoholic screenwriter who’s managed to stay relevant in an industry that isn’t necessarily built for men like Mank. Utilizing the subtitles helped me understand the conversation among the characters, particularly in the scenes where Mank is heavily intoxicated. The narrative is driven by heavy dialogue — the result of an extensively researched script. This aspect of the film was more noticeable during the second viewing, because the captions helped me gather a better understanding of the story, which made the intellectual conversations compelling to watch.
Taking place in the ‘30s & ‘40s, the film dives into the studio system from that era. In reality, the writing of the script for “Citizen Kane” is only spotlighted in the “present” scenes and not the flashbacks. Heads of studios and important, influential Hollywood people make appearances in the flashbacks scenes. Some I had an idea of their existence, like Louis. B. Meyer, but others went completely over my head.
Fincher’s latest film doesn’t focus on the creation and developments of the script of “Citizen Kane”; instead, it’s a window to this era of Hollywood through the lens of Mank, who happened to be writing the script. I wasn’t expecting this level of political involvement throughout the movie in addition to its influence in producing movies. The sequence where it’s Meyer’s birthday and the guests are all sitting in one room is the pinnacle in terms of debating the world’s political state, including individuals’ political inclinations. Naturally, Hitler becomes the topic of conversation, with everyone criticizing his ideals and his loyal followers, which ironically could be perceived as purposely hinting at the current U.S. administration when, in reality, this script was written years before.
The acting was great across the board, with Gary Oldman and Amanda Seyfried as highlights. Needless to say, anytime these two were on screen together it was a delight. Lily Collins graciously carried her weight, and I liked the dynamics between her and Oldman. Lastly, Tom Burke as Orson Welles was surprisingly good. The production design and costume design were very well done, easily transporting the audience to 90 years into the past.
Overall, “Mank”’s superb technical achievement is its strongest suit, followed closely by great performances from Oldman and Seyfried. Its in-depth researched script is bound to give cinephiles a joyful experience. But because it’s aimed at a niche of the movie audience, it’ll suffer to appeal to the rest of the audience.
Featured image credit: Netflix
Rosa is a Rotten Tomatoes certified film critic who’s passionate about advocating for Latinx and female representation. She’s the co-founder and co-host of the podcast Latinx Lens, which is focused on representation and contribution of the Latinx community in Television and Film industry. She’s the assistant editor of ITOL (In Their Own League), a site and podcast dedicated to highlight women in the industry. She’s proud member of HCA (Hollywood Critics Association), LEJA (Latino Entertainment Journalists Association), OAFFC (Online Association of Female Film Critics). She’s a coffee addict that unapologetically loves pineapple on her pizza.