Mank: Netflix Film Review

Mank

Having David Fincher‘s name attached to a project is usually a promising sign. I love several of his movies and had high expectations about his latest one, Mank, but I came away from it pretty disappointed. 

Based on a screenplay by Fincher’s late father Jack, Mank tells the story of Herman J. Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman), who was hired to write the script for Orson Welles’ 1941 classic Citizen Kane. The main action takes place in 1940 when the alcoholic tries to write the script without his booze and is laid up in bed in a cast following a car accident. There are also many flashbacks throughout the early 1930s which illustrate Mank’s friendship with publisher William Rudolph Hearst (Charles Dance) and his partner, actress Marion Davies (Amanda Seyfried), who are said to be the inspiration for the main characters in Citizen Kane. 

The drama surrounding Citizen Kane, from Welles’ and Mank’s dispute over the writing credit to Hearst’s response to the movie, is real-life material ripe for a movie portrayal and I would have found that version of the story fascinating. But Mank doesn’t tell the story I was expecting it to. I was thinking it was going to portray the writing of it, the credit dispute and then perhaps the making of it and the fallout. But it focuses more on Mank himself, and, perhaps more surprisingly, studio system politics and a 1934 California gubernatorial election. I would have much preferred the focus to have been on Mank and Citizen Kane, not the rest of it. 

Mank is all over the place, and it’s very hard to keep track of the timeline of events and who’s who because it jumps around a lot. This film features so many famous faces from Old Hollywood and it assumes the viewer knows who everyone is, so I had to spend some time Googling (the beauty of watching at home) so I could grasp what was going on, and even then, I still had trouble remembering who someone was the next time they came back onscreen. 

I can appreciate Mank in certain respects though. It is a very ambitious movie, with a stunning black-and-white look, and Fincher had a clear vision that he executed well. There are some big get-together scenes which stand out as being particularly enjoyable and interesting to watch. And then there are the performances. Oldman gives an impressive performance as Mank and convinces as someone who is basically drunk all the time. But the star of the show was easily Seyfried, who is magnetic and captivating as the blonde bombshell Davies. She is the heart of the piece and had a vivacious, sparkly presence that injected life into every scene she’s in. They are a few more recognisable faces in this from Lily Collins as Mank’s secretary Rita Alexander, Tuppence Middleton as his wife Sara, and Tom Burke as Welles. The latter casting makes no sense – Burke is 39 when Welles was 25 in 1940. 

I could appreciate Fincher’s vision but Mank doesn’t work for me. I didn’t care about or connect with the story or the characters and I was never engrossed in it. I would maybe like it more on a second watch as I now understand the chronology of events and who everyone is, but I won’t be doing that any time soon – Mank is hard to follow and sometimes dull and ends as the real-life drama gets interesting. 

In selected cinemas now and on Netflix from Friday 4th December 

Rating: 3 out of 5.

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