By Christian DiMartino
What’s the saying? “They don’t make’em like they used to.” When it comes to movies, yeah, they really don’t. But David Fincher certainly has with his latest masterwork, Mank.
Knowing what a year it’s been for movies (if you’ve looked for the best ones, you’ve found them), it wouldn’t come as any surprise if Mank became a major Oscar contender, especially considering Hollywood’s obsession with itself. Here’s the thing though: any such praise will be more than deserved, because Mank is a film with so much on its mind; a film that aims high and achieves its lofty goals; a film that is so much at once that it’s hard to watch this film and totally not be swept off your feet. That is, if its subject matter appeals to you.
Mank is a lot of things. It’s a movie about a man. It’s a movie about a man making a movie about a man. It’s a movie about old Hollywood. It’s an homage to old Hollywood and old Hollywood movies. It’s an homage to Citizen Kane. It’s a history lesson. Yet first and foremost, it’s a triumph. This is a film that’s absolutely beautiful to behold, with lovely attention to detail, strong writing and a great ensemble cast that deserve more than their credit. It’s a film so grand to behold, it’s a real shame that not everyone will have the pleasure of viewing it on the big screen. I did last night, and let me tell you, it’s a beaut. It wouldn’t surprise me if this wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but if it is your cup of tea, it’s a great cup of tea.
Set in the early 1940s (and sometimes the mid 1930s) Fincher’s film, his first since the brilliant Gone Girl, follows one Herman Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman, in a performance even better than his Oscar winning work in Darkest Hour), known by most as “Mank.” Mank, a former film critic and playwright, ultimately ended up a screenwriter, typically of B-movies. We see him as he deals with alcoholism, something that typically gets his creative juices flowing. Front and center at the core of Mank though is Mank’s experience writing his magnum opus (and, arguably, the grandest magnum opus of all), Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane.
The film jumps back and forth in time as we learn where Mank’s inspiration for the film originated from. From what we’re to gather (and I am not personally aware of the film’s historical accuracy), Mank essentially wrote the film to spite William Randolph Hearst (Charles Dance) and Louis B. Mayer (Arliss Howard). We also see Mank frequently hanging around Marion Davies (Amanda Seyfried), a starlet who frequently catches his eye, and who could blame him?
After seeing Mank, it’s easy to see why Netflix took this film on, as opposed to a theatrical release, and not even from a COVID-19 standpoint. The audience’s reaction to this film remains to be seen, and it really depends on whether or not you have any knowledge or interest on this subject matter. If you don’t have an interest in old movies, it won’t do much for you. If you are unaware of names like Hearst, Mayer, Upton Sinclair, Irving Thalberg, etc., then the film will probably feel tedious. It’s not a film that’s tremendously exciting.
And yet this film wowed me within its first 10 seconds, and it pretty much never stopped. I love this stuff. I love the dialogue, which is filled with conversations that consist of constant name dropping of the time period. It felt good to be apart of Mank’s circle. To some, it will feel as if Fincher, working from a screenplay by his late father, Jack Fincher, is just showing off, in terms of dialogue and spectacle. Maybe he is… but he’s earned the right to, especially here.
Mank is consistently engaging, again depending on your interest in the subject matter. It’s also fabulously acted, slyly funny, and, most important of all, beautifully crafted. Remember how well Alfonso Cuaron was able to capture the look of outer space with Gravity? With Mank, Fincher practically takes us back in time, in perhaps the year’s most visually arresting film. This film blew me away in terms of its cinematography, its production design, its costumes, its brilliant score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. All of which is more than worthy of an Academy Award. Fincher has made the most homage-iest homage you’ll ever see. Successful homages have been made before, but not like this.
The spectacle and artistry on display in Mank is a firm reminder of why Fincher is one of the grandest craftsman working in movies today. Anyone with a love and appreciation for film shouldn’t dare miss it. Even if the film won’t play well for everyone, there is no denying its artistry. Mank is an excellent movie about an excellent movie, a surefire Oscar contender, and a trip back to a time long gone. A time when California was still Republican. Talk about long gone.
Streaming on Netflix 12/4/20