Mank ★★½

Fincher plays it safe and the results are respectable old hat. A biopic about the overlap between movies, business, and politics — a fabricated myth about the purported mythmaking that led to crafting the ultimate poison-penned myth — ought to be a dynamite launchpad for something trenchant, or at least passionate, but, instead, it opts for a semi-nostalgic Maps-to-the-Stars approach to Old Hollywood, complete with cutesy pitch sessions (featuring no less than Joseph Von Sternberg!) and feisty drawing room gab-and-diss sessions in Hearst’s luxuriant mansion; one of the more provocative ideas here is that Mank's writing was a form of vengeance against those he held in contempt. Sure, the staging is immaculate. Look no further than the two key gatherings at San Simeon; the first a masterclass in maintaining screen direction amid a 5+ character dialogue scene, while the third-act Quixote pitch derives/protracts discomfort from Mank’s normally amusing drunken tomfoolery while still seeing him as “the smartest man in the room.” We know Fincher can do this, he knows how to work on the audience, even when his movies are cold to the touch. He's on autopilot, spending more time garnishing the sheen than anything else: cue marks, tinny monaural sound, artificial scratches and hairlines, and a digital monochromatic palette of grayscale soup. So much emphasis on minutiae makes me wonder if this is just one of those long-gestating passion projects that’s been locked inside the creator’s brain for so long that, when it finally comes to life, it means little to anyone but the filmmaker.

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