Mank ★★★★

Citizen Kane is a good example of a classic film that I find myself appreciating more than actually enjoying or even loving it. With this in mind, I didn't really know what to except of Mank. David Fincher is a favourite of mine (fuck Fight Club though…), but the film is based on a script his late father had written, which made me a little worried that his emotional connection could potentially cloud any quality issues that might exist.

And for the first 60 - 90 minutes I was sure I needn't have worried. First of all, this thing looks bloody gorgeous. Fincher wanted it to feel like it was made back then and while this is a claim often made by filmmakers who do a period piece, very few actually achieve it and even fewer to the extent that Fincher did with Mank. The only thing that reminded me that I'm not actually watching a movie from the first half of the last century is the 2.20:1 aspect ratio, which I find a particular odd choice for a film like this. That and the use of "fuck" a couple of times. Mind you, I love swearing, I just feel it wasn't called for in this case. Apart from that, Fincher created a perfect illusion.

Now the story. I was aware of Citizen Kane's difficult history of origins, but I knew very little details, so pretty much everything I learned was new to me. Same goes for Herman J. Mankiewicz. He seems to have been a man with two great talents. Writing being one, of course, while the other was standing in his own way. Mank is the kind of character that is endlessly fun to watch, but would be exhausting to deal with in real life. He was sharp-witted, with a great sense of humor, but also had a belligerent streak, that would let him open his mouth even when he would've gotten what he wanted, if only he had kept it shut. In particular when there was alcohol involved, which appears to have been rather the norm than the exemption.

In other words, a perfect Gary Oldman part, even if he is actually about twenty years older than Mankiewicz was at the time. And boy does he deliver. Unlike his makeup-heavy Churchill, this is pure Oldman. He gives his Mank an underlying decency and warmth, that shine through his sneering and wise-cracking. The casting director really needs to be recommended, because everyone else is equally fitting for their part. Sometimes an actor in a period film sticks out like a sore thumb, not necessarily because of a subpar performance, but because they just look and feel too modern (e.g. DiCaprio in Gangs of New York). I was afraid that might be the case with Amanda Seyfried here. I'm not very familiar with her work, but judging by this she surely got what it takes to convince as a classic Hollywood blonde.

Unfortunately the film doesn't keep up the brilliance all the way through the finish line. Mank kind of peters out in the final act. The momentum that made it so damn enjoyable to watch up until then is lost when the ramifications of Mankiewicz's behaviour begin to impact his life and career. At the same time that part feels rushed, like it needed a couple more minutes to stand on a more solid foundation.

If it wasn't for that slight dip in quality, Mank would be another masterpiece, right up there with Fincher's best work. As it is, it's "only" a very good effort from one of the great directors of our time.

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