It’s been six long years since we’ve been graced by a David Fincher movie. After Gone Girl he produced and directed some episodes of the dark serial killer drama Mindhunter for Netflix. It’s only fitting his new cinematic work is brought to us through the same streaming service that has been so good to him over the past years. But is Mank all it’s cracked up to be?
Short answer? No. Those who know me will understand just how much it pains me to say this but Mank is a mess. A beautiful mess and an obvious labor of love for all involved, but it will leave anyone who doesn’t have an art degree or a thorough knowledge of old Hollywood and its showrunners bewildered and lost.
Mank revolves around notorious drunk and screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz, portrayed with conviction by the ever-excellent Gary Oldman. After a car crash leaves him immobilized, he is secluded by Orson Welles (Tom Burke in an eerie resemblance) to work on a new screenplay. As he pens what will be known as his masterpiece, Citizen Kane, we zip back and forth between Mank’s various encounters with friends, foes and studio executives. And none of it ever strikes a chord.
The screenplay for Mank was written by Fincher’s father Jack (chief editor of Life magazine) back in the nineties. Jack Fincher passed away in 2003 and the film was dedicated to his memory. The man clearly knew his movie history but seems to have overlooked that not everyone can simply flesh out a character by hearing their names only. Louis B. Mayer, David O. Selznick, Irving Thalberg … if those don’t ring a bell this movie will leave you guessing as to who’s who and why any of it matters.
Mank is also very much a talkie and while it does seem that Fincher senior has a way with words on a page, they never come to life on screen. It stifles the actors in a very unnatural way of speaking. Almost like a persiflage of what the forties must have sounded like.
But let’s not be completely negative here. There’s a lot to appreciate when Fincher directs something and with Mank that’s no different. The attention to detail is astounding and everything was done to make the look of this film as reminiscent of the era it is set in. Filters, fluctuations in light, slightly under-lit scenes, a somewhat muddled finish to the audio … it’s all there, replete with the infamous cigarette burns or cue marks that signal a transition in the movie reel.
The cast and crew all bring their A-game to a film that’s meant to highlight the tumultuous times on the studio lot way back when. But the backbone is a confused and unfocused screenplay that crumbles under the style over content approach.
Review by Stephen Dhondt
Netflix Review – ‘Mank’
Reviewed on Netflix, December 4, 2020. Rating: M. Running time: 131 min.
PRODUCTION: A Netflix release and production. Producers: Ceán Chaffin (p.g.a.), Eric Roth (p.g.a.), Douglas Urbanski (p.g.a.).
CREW: Director: David Fincher. Screenplay: Jack Fincher. Editing: Kirk Baxter. Cinematography: Erik Messerschmidt. Score: Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross.
WITH: Gary Oldman, Amanda Seyfried, Lily Collins, Tom Pelphrey, Arliss Howard, Tuppence Middleton, Monika Gossmann, Joseph Cross, Tom Burke, Charles Dance.