Mank ★★½

Why is it that Fincher’s works usually have dalliances with sociopathy?

From Seven to Fight Club, Zodiac to The Social Network, Gone Girl, and now this... a Hollywood writer who drinks to extent, gambles liberally, and tackles serious matters in life, including relationships with his colleagues and his own wife, using nothing but sarcasm and the ol’ bottle. In 1940, Herman J. Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman) gets injured in a car accident due to his driver’s stupidity. To recover, he is put up, under the care of two nurses, in a house in Victorville, away from Hollywood’s toxicity. Not only is he there to relax and heal, but he is to write the screenplay for Citizen Kane in an unnaturally short 60 days. The tale is then told in flashbacks dating to a decade prior all the way up to the present day. 

Frankly, there’s not really much to care about in this flick that is a flaccid tribute to the Golden Era.

Somewhere in here is an interesting story not just about Mank, but Orson Welles’ involvement in the making of Citizen Kane. Unfortunately, the latter only gets treated like an imposing, negative, and ethereal rarity, rather than the young, brash, and ambitious actor/director who sought Mank’s assistance in the screenplay. There was true competition when Welles took on the 1941 project as RKO Pictures gave him full autonomy over the movie’s production and final cut.

If anything, this Fincher flick could’ve delved into the notorious reputations both Welles and Mank achieved in Hollywood’s studio system — Mank, the veteran screenwriter and script doctor with a famously alcoholic streak and Welles as the Hollywood newcomer straight out of the theater and seen as a wunderkind among studio circles. The tension resulted in Mank writing his own script as Welles remained in Hollywood to type up his own. The latter would later combine his material with the alcoholic script doctor’s. An introspection in the clash between these two strong personalities in Kane’s preproduction — before, during, and after the script was finished — would’ve then solidified this film’s ending. 

Instead, Fincher, with his father’s script, takes liberties and mainly focuses on Herman’s personality, his friendship with actress Marion Davies (Amanda Seyfried), studio shenanigans with Louis B. Mayer, and how William Randolph Hearst influenced the characterization of Charles Foster Kane. Fine, but even the tale of such a journey that led up to the script’s materialization isn’t enticing enough to care about with the exception of Mank’s friendship with Marion — this alone could have created for a more enticing film away from Louis B. Mayer’s involvement in political swaying alongside other studio figureheads.

Maybe there is something there that can be relatable to today — Hollywood’s involvement in politics. Fincher seems to hold a heavenly light on Mank and his own political difference in supporting socialist Upton Sinclair. That entire portion of it is incredibly out of place, unnatural, unnecessary, and pompous. Fitting in the current realm of the star district. It has no reason to be in the film. Especially when thoughts are that this story could’ve been more focused on two people as opposed to Fincher’s poor, creatively liberalized, haphazard journey of Herman J. Mankiewicz before he wrote the screenplay to what is considered one of America’s most well-regarded films.

The elements used are interesting, but ultimately, the film feels distant and out of place, rather than appreciative or immersive. Its technical aspects are acceptable in a modern black and white aesthetic that harkens back to the old filmic era. However, a more intriguing idea would’ve been to format every flashback shot in 1.37:1 as the 1940 scenes remained in 2.39:1. This would’ve accentuated what was in the past as opposed to the story’s present day ‘40s & Mank’s bedridden writing assignment. Gary Oldman and Amanda Seyfried are good in their roles. Tom Burke, despite some moments in losing the Orson Welles flair, was wasted as the ambitious actor/filmmaker. He loses the Welles voice and emanation in three scenes apart from his phone conversations with Oldman’s Herman. He was alright, just alright.

As a result, Mank’s 1930s aesthetic was the only high mark, although that’s not saying much. This is just another film of the recent era that barely holds any charisma like those of olden times, despite harkening back to the early 20th century. For the ending to stand out, a focus on Citizen Kane’s tug-of-war pre-production between Mank and Welles is preferred. It’s the creative writing process between the two and the road to the big feature that would’ve been really interesting to get into. Mank alone as some glorified character is not.

Lastly, those fake cue marks come off as funny, rather than respectable.

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