NETFLIX FILM REVIEW: MANK (2020)
Directed by: David Fincher
Produced by: Ceán Chaffin, Eric Roth, Douglas Urbanski
Screenplay by: Jack Fincher
Cast: Gary Oldman, Amanda Seyfried, Lily Collins, Arliss Howard, Tom Pelphrey, Charles Dance, etc.
Music by: Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross
Cinematography: Erik Messerschmidt
***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***
“A movie in production is the greatest train set a boy could ever have.” – Orson Welles
I was never a fan of train sets as a child or adult. Nor those racing car circuit kits like Scalextric. They were not for me and I always got the feeling that the person playing with them was having much more fun than any spectator in the room. I had that similar feeling of exclusion and while watching David Fincher’s latest film, MANK (2020). Fincher of course is one of the leading film directors of a generation, combining exquisite technical brilliance with a formidable eye for genre storytelling. Indeed, films he directed such as: SEVEN (1995), FIGHT CLUB (1999), ZODIAC (2007) and the arguably under-rated, THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON (2008), are all masterclasses in filmmaking technique and genre narratives. Fincher has also made other excellent films too and also helped create the superlative crime series on Netflix, MINDHUNTER.
Thus, with such a directorial power at the helm it is mildly surprising that Fincher has chosen, as his latest film opus, to favour the trials and tribulations of a famous Hollywood screenwriter in Herman J. Mankiewicz. Yet, this is somewhat of a personal project for Fincher as his father, Jack Fincher, wrote the screenplay prior to his passing in 2003. Mankiewicz or ‘Mank’, as he was commonly known, is portrayed by the never-less-than-brilliant, Gary Oldman. His Mank is a wise-cracking, gambling and barely functioning alcoholic, who so happens to be one of the best screenwriters and script doctors in 1940’s Hollywood. Laid up following a car crash, Mank is consigned to a bed for the majority of the present tense of the film. There he is bullied to write CITIZEN KANE (1941), by theatrical wunderkind, Orson Welles, while also ordered to remain sober.
If you have never seen, CITIZEN KANE (1941), or know little of the Hollywood period of the time, then you are most likely to be lost with MANK (2020). CITIZEN KANE (1941) is rightly considered one of finest films of all time and there have been a number of films made about its creation. Here though the story concentrates on the plight of the writer and how Mank came to be influenced by his relationships with William Randolph Hearst (Charles Dance) and Marion Davies (Amanda Seyfried). Some of the best scenes of the film are Mank’s visits to Hearst Castle and the opulent dinner parties which take place. Mank himself is seen as a witty addendum to proceedings, but always the sneered upon drunken outsider, good for a biting quip and an inebriated jest. Allied to this there are an abundance of characters from the studio system featured, notably Louis B. Mayer, Irvin Thalberg and David O. Selznick. The scene where an drunken Mank bitterly lets rip his ire at Hearst and his cronies is a memorable work of acting from Oldman and contains some fantastic dialogue too.
Overall, the drama rarely gets as good as this and I hardly ever cared about many of the characters, including Mankiewicz himself. The script felt broken-backed, switching from the belligerent and bed-ridden Mank to the flashbacks portraying his Hollywood experiences. I must say though, that the use of screenwriting headers to delineate the place and year of a scene is inspired. The political subplot also, while important to Mankiewicz’s motivation behind his writing choices, did not quite work for me either. Finally, as we would come to expect from a visual genius such as David Fincher, the film’s style is artistry of the highest order. The black-and-white cinematography and stunning production design of MANK (2020) is absolutely incredible to behold. As such, one won’t witness a more beautiful looking train set on a TV or cinema screen all year.