This week the highly anticipated release of Mank came to Netflix. This signified the return to film from David Fincher, who hadn’t directed a film since 2014’s Gone Girl. It is the return of one of the most notable directors in the industry and the return of a director who is the closest thing to a perfectionist in modern film.
In short, Mank is about Herman J. Mankiewicz and his role in helping propel Hollywood and his role in the writing of the screenplay of Citizen Kane, which is often labeled as one of the greatest films of all-time. Mank is a film that I believe will end up dividing audiences across the board. It is a film that is destined to appeal to a particular group of people. If you are a film buff, cinephile, or someone who is fascinated with how films are made and the history behind Hollywood, Mank is right up your alley, and you’ll like and enjoy this film a ton. Now, if you are not in those categories that I just mentioned, I could understand not liking Mank at all. It’s merely just not a film intended for everyone.
If we are slapping a genre on Mank, it is a biopic, and like most biopics, it comes with a little controversy. When you tell the story through film, there are always two sides to that history and Mank sides with a bias in favor of Herman J. Mankiewicz. Throughout the film, the two sides of this story are Mankiewicz and his fight to get credited for Citizen Kane and Orson Welles fighting for most of the credit. All biopics have to choose a side, and most of them dramatize the specifics within the story. From what I have read (and I am in no way an expert on this subject), that’s precisely what Fincher and his crew did here, and there’s no issue with that.
On the same note, I think where Mank suffers greatly is instead of showing you what happens, it tells you what is happening during this time. I’ve never been a huge fan of this type of storytelling in film. At times it feels like these actors are just reading a factsheet of what’s happening during this time period. This isn’t something that happens throughout the entire film, but it certainly happed enough for it to become noticeable. In my opinion, this isn’t the best way to let the audience know what is happening in the time period the biopic is taking place. It’s my biggest gripe with the film, and admittedly it might be nitpicky to some, but it’s a massive pet peeve of mine within this genre.
Mank is so different than many of Fincher’s work while also remaining Fincher-esque. It feels like a love letter to Hollywood and the golden age of filmmaking, and I adore that aspect of it. It is up there with the best scripts that he has worked with, and it includes a truly terrific performance by Gary Oldman, who plays Herman J. Mankiewicz. Oldman will likely get a lead actor Oscar nom, and he absolutely deserves it. Mank also has some great performances by Amanda Seyfried, who plays Marion Davies, Lily Collins, who plays Rita Alexander, Tom Burke, who plays Orson Welles, and Charles Dance, who plays William Randolph Hearst. It is the best group of performances head to toe in any film this year.
Mank also has one of the best musical scores in film that I’ve heard this year. The score is by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, and they perfectly encapsulate the mood and time period of the film. Through their compositions, they are able to transport you to Hollywood in the 1930s and 40s.
Mank is a different film that I may have been expecting, but then again, I didn’t honestly know what to expect in the first place. It feels like Fincher’s most playful and passionate film project in his career, and because of that, I think it is his most challenging to dissect. If willing, I think it’s one of those films worthy of a rewatch by audiences, and in doing so, it will lead to a greater appreciation of the film and story as a whole. It does a lot well and is well worthy of all the praise it is getting. Simultaneously, as mentioned before, I think it’s a film that is not universal for everyone to enjoy, but then again, what film is?