I’m now convinced that director David Fincher could make a movie about anyone and visually drive me through an adventure. 2020’s MANK shouldn’t really work as well as it does. It’s a film about the making of one of the greatest films of all time, 1941’s “Citizen Kane”, but you never see the film being made.
It circles around legendary filmmaker Orson Welles, but he’s barely in the film. Instead, it focuses on screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz. Unabashedly drunk, verbally abusive and brilliant, he’s “Mank” to his closest friends and most lethal enemies.
Gary Oldman is a certain Best Actor nominee as Mank, adopting a heavy gait, an American accent and a razor-sharp wit, cutting anyone that gets near him. Oldman is always great, but he’s created something special here by creating a character you’ll cheer for with full knowledge that he probably doesn’t deserve it. The rare moments when he allows his witty wordplay to be silenced and just live the moment are powerful and Oldman delivers them perfectly.
The film details Mank’s quest to write the best screenplay he’s ever made, under a strict deadline from Welles, who’s played by Tom Burke with a mixture of bravado and an incredible impression of Welles one-of-a-kind voice. Welles is 24 years old and has complete control over his new film Kane. He invests his trust in Mank to rise above his vices and create a master work.
After a nasty accident and a broken leg, Mank is pretty much bed bound and in traction, surrounded by his loyal housekeeper Fraulein Freda (Monica Gossman) and newly assigned assistant Rita (Lily Collins from “Rules Don’t Apply”). In just one of the pleasurable discoveries of the film, the new young assistant and Freda the Mank loyalist don’t follow stereotypical circles around him or each other. Their interactions are never compromising or predictable.
The film’s structure flashes back and forth for over two hours between Mank writing the screenplay and his Hollywood past that has delivered him to his last chance at redemption.
We see the real-life people that become characters in Citizen Kane and the studio heads that admire Mank’s charisma and unabashed commitment to his opinion while reviling his inability to display any social decency.
Arliss Howard (Full Metal Jacket, Moneyball) is terrific as Louis B. Mayer, ruling MGM with an iron fist. Charles Dance (Game of Thrones) is magnetic as William Randolph Hearst, the newspaper magnate that saw Kane as a personal attack and used every but of his power to block the film from ever being made or seen.
Amanda Seyfried (First Reformed) is a blast as Marion Davies, the ditzy starlet girlfriend of the much older Hearst, who’s a lot smarter than she lets on. Her close friendship with Mank brings out the best in her and the moments that she realizes that are some of the best in the film.
The screenplay is by David Fincher’s late father, Jack and took over 30 years to get made. It was worth the wait. In the younger Fincher’s hands, it becomes a brilliant black & white tribute to the movies, the old studio system, politics and Hollywood, the creative process and the incredible force that is Mank.
Fincher’s ability to create the same kind of non-stop energy and momentum in MANK that he did in “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” is remarkable. The entire two hour plus running time is basically non-stop dialogue, swept along by Fincher’s ever-moving camera and a tour-de-force by Oldman.
At one point Mank says, “You cannot capture a man’s entire life in two hours. All you can hope is to leave the impression of one.” Like the rest of the film, well said and well done.
MANK gets an A.