“Mank” is a 2020 Netflix original film directed by David Fincher and stars Gary Oldman as Herman Mankiewicz, Lily Collins as Rita, Tuppence Middleton as Sara, and Tom Burke as Orson Welles.
The film focuses on the life of Mankiewicz, or “Mank,” as the title suggests – one of the greatest screenwriters in American history. He, along with Welles, is the brains behind one of the most revered pieces of cinema of all time – “Citizen Kane.”
The film’s principal narrative is Mank trying to complete a screenplay for Welles within 90 days – an incredibly short amount of time for a writer of any level. Mank himself feels as if his days are behind him – in 1938, he was hired as one of the 10 screenwriters to work on “The Wizard of Oz.”
Undoubtedly a hard performance to follow up on.
But Mank is not your typical shut-in, no sleep screenwriter with a strong work ethic. In fact, his secretary, Rita, is seemingly appalled at his habits. In order to write, Mank feels as if he needs to be in a state where he is about to fall asleep.
Alcohol is his nightcap, and it allows him to truly write from his heart – what he believes the truth to be.
In terms of cinematography, the film is somewhat meta as it is presenting itself in an editing style that would be reminiscent of “talkies” shown throughout the mid-to-late ’20s, into the ’30s.
At the end of each scene, the set lights are cut off, once again making it feel as if it’s a legitimate classic film.
While the man Oldman is portraying at the time is almost 30 years younger than he is, he fully encapsulates the role of a man leading a simple life, but in reality, has so much information to divulge if people were to actually speak with him.
This leads to fantastic scenes between Mank and Marion Davis, played by Amanda Seyfried, where two characters are able to speak freely in such a politicized community, that being Hollywood.
The performances in general were certainly something to applaud, especially from the female portion of the cast. While they were on screen for considerably less time, Middleton and Davis are typically in both the best-written, as well as best-shot scenes throughout the film.
However, towards the end of the first act, there are so many things happening not just to Mank, but to the Hollywood industry and America as a whole, that it seems to lack focus on any particular message.
Mank is just as much about the Great Depression and fake news as it is about film and the process of writing. For some, this could be seen as a stylistic, interesting way of showing how people operated during the Depression.
And conceptually, it’s a fantastic addition to the script as there are so many parallels to today between how we view workers, process news, and go about debating politics amongst ourselves.
It’s unfortunate that it really doesn’t feel as if this can all be contained within a runtime of two hours 11 minutes. While it’s interesting to be presented history via a film, it’s also incredibly easy for it to become stale – especially when you include more interesting anecdotes within the story.
That being said, the film can certainly be enjoyed for all lovers of history, and even people interested in film. “Citizen Kane,” does not need to be watched in order to enjoy this film, and the references to the actual film really only pick up in the final moments of the movie.
Like a bland book with a great cover