Mank ★★★½

A new film by David Fincher, about the alcoholic writer of Citizen Kane, presented in black and white like the era it portrays and released straight to Netflix? David, are you sure you're feeling well?

The film is a biting dramedy about Mankiewicz, "Mank" to his friends, an injured writer pressing out a script for his up-and-coming Hollywood buddy Orson Welles. Meanwhile we flash back in time and see his rivalries with the Hollywood socialites, most notably newspaper magnate Williams Randolph Hearst and MGM's own Louis B. Mayer.

Gary Oldman is excellent, but he's also excellent in his sleep. I can't help but feel like some of Churchill (or "Droopy Dog") has leaked into this performance as well though. For my money the real star of this show however is Amanda Seyfried as Marion Davies. She's come a long way from putting her whole fist in her mouth. Also, the fella playing Welles. There have been many an Orson Welles on the screen, and he's among the very best I've seen, but leave it to Fincher to scour the Earth for someone's long lost twin.

All the pieces are in place, so why don't I love it? It was wonderfully written and acted, well realized and it is remarkably dedicated to looking period accurate (is that.. actual mono sound I'm hearing in a 2020 film, or Dolby pretending to be mono?). I think perhaps that's just it though - I felt an inevitable clash between style and substance. Is this an earnest portrayal or merely a pretty pastische? Both? While I'm sure it's certainly exaggerated for effect, to put it mildly, that kind of style was like an arm that held me at bay, a sign that said "don't take this too seriously" at any given time and that robs the fine performances some of their luster. You have to give it to Fincher for trying something new, when has he ever made a comedy (that wasn't pitch black and involved rampant destruction and murder)?

I think there is a great deal to enjoy and celebrate here, but the presentation seems to suggest that this is merely another reel of film full of half-truths and Hollywood concoctions (aren't they all?), and that's rare for Fincher, a man usually so desperate to dig his fingernails into your flesh hard enough that you feel the grime beneath. What we are left with then is so much fanciful crosstalk - enjoyable but hard to swallow, the way Mank might swallow cheap gin. Well done little monkeys, you've performed a nice dance.

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