Starring: Gary Oldman, Amanda Seyfried, Lily Collins
Director: David Fincher
Running Time: 131 mins
Mank is an American film about the story of screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz, and his role in the development of the script for Citizen Kane, said to be directed and co-written by Orson Welles.
Much like the film it pays homage to, Mank at first doesn’t seem to match up right. The different time periods and regular use of flashbacks are almost disorienting, but as the story progresses, it comes together beautifully. Though perhaps bordering on inaccessible for casual cinemagoers, it’s a glorious love letter to a classic era of the silver screen, as well as a captivating indictment of Hollywood at its most powerful.
There’s a lot to praise about Mank, but one thing you can’t deny is how the film is such a labour of love from director David Fincher. Not only is it produced divinely, transporting you back to the era in arresting fashion, but the attention to detail of his direction and the screenplay by his brother Jack is second-to-none, making this one of the most sumptuous movies about movies ever made.
It’s not just the way that the film presents the time period in such riveting and grounded detail – you’ll be dizzy from just trying to pick up as many classic Hollywood references as you can – but the ingeniously executed parallels that the film explores between Mankiewicz’s life, and the classic story of Citizen Kane.
Of course, the point that the film makes about the origins of Citizen Kane’s story is that it was Mankiewicz, not Orson Welles, whose life conjured up that classic tale. In that, the film offers a riveting and thoroughly convincing answer to the age-old controversy of who was really responsible for the screenplay of Citizen Kane, which on its own makes Mank worth your time.
As well as the historical parallels, Mank follows the essence of Citizen Kane’s then-revolutionary narrative structure, telling the story of a lifetime through flashbacks and a non-linear screenplay. Of course, that was largely unheard of in 1941 when Kane was released, and was a point of confusion for many viewers.
Bizarrely yet brilliantly, Mank manages to create a similar sense of confusion in its opening stages through its heavy use of flashbacks. We’re fully used to the technique nowadays, but this movie somehow gives you the chance to feel the same sensations as viewers back in the day when they saw Citizen Kane for the first time.
And although it may be a little all over the place at first, Mank follows in Citizen Kane’s footsteps by brilliantly tying together all the different threads of a rollercoaster lifetime by the time the credits roll.
Particularly as we move from pure biography to a more opinionated political piece about an outsider in the big business boys’ club that was Hollywood in the 1930s, Mank really begins to find its stride, again playing in brilliantly to the origins of Citizen Kane and what that story is really all about.
It’s at this point I will say that – if you haven’t seen Citizen Kane – there’s a good chance Mank won’t make a lick of sense to you, particularly in the first half. However, David Fincher’s immense love for the history is such that he can’t make a widely accessible story without cutting out vital parts of what makes this story so great.
Mank is a great film, but before you give it a watch, make sure you’ve seen (and loved) Citizen Kane first.
Beyond the film’s brilliant story, we can’t look past Mank’s gorgeous visuals and production. Everything from its sound design, editing, special effects and more is a beautiful tribute to the films of Hollywood in the 1930s and ’40s. It might seem like a bit of a gimmick at first, but believe me, the style brings so much charisma to the film, making it just as enjoyable as the creamiest of movie sundaes.
As much as I was fearing in the early stages, this movie isn’t a case of style over substance, it really makes you ache for a time when the movies ruled the world, when Hollywood was at its most glamorous, and when the sky was the limit for the motion picture business. The fact that the nostalgia for old Hollywood is so powerful is even more impressive considering the critical eye that this film takes towards the true nature of the industry at the time.
Finally, a word on the performances, which are excellent across the board. Of course, Gary Oldman is incredible in the lead role as Mankiewicz, giving yet another transformative performance that embodies everything about his character, from the superficial to the deep.
The supporting cast all brings so much to the film’s authentic 1930s/40s feel, with Amanda Seyfried a fantastic leading lady, Arliss Howard a mesmerising L.B. Mayer, and Tom Burke a really great Orson Welles – even if his appearances are only sparing.
Overall, Mank is one of those films which admittedly requires a lot of work, and a lot of background knowledge, to really get into, but it’s so, so worth it. Yes, the movie is almost totally inaccessible to the casual viewer, but if you’re as much of a lover of Citizen Kane and old Hollywood as the Finchers are, then this gorgeous and ingenious look back to the past will go down so sweetly. So, that’s why I’m giving Mank a 7.9.