Feature Length Films

Mr. Khan’s Review on Mank (2020)

A review on American feature length film, Mank (2020). The film is directed by David Fincher (The Game, Fight Club, Zodiac) and is produced by Ceán Chaffin, Eric Roth and Douglas Urbanski. Mank is a Netflix Original Film. 

+ Crew

  • Directed by David Fincher 
  • Cinematography by Erik Messerschmidt
  • Written by Jack Fincher
  • Music by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross
  • Edited by Kirk Baxter
  • Produced by Ceán Chaffin, Eric Roth and Douglas Urbanski

+ Note

Mank’s screenplay was conceived as early as 1997 by David Fincher’s father Jack Fincher and originally, Kevin Spacey and Jodie Foster were considered for the lead roles. The project never came to fruition due to insistence by Fincher to shoot it in Black and White. At first, Jack Fincher’s script closely followed the claim made by Pauline Kael’s article ‘Raising Kane’ which argued that the script for the legendary film Citizen Kane was solely written by Herman J. Mankiewicz and Orson Welles had no involvement in it whatsoever. Following rewrites, David changed the “Anti-Welles” stance to a more neutral perspective over this argument. The film closely follows Mankiewicz’s journey in the Golden Age of Hollywood and his initial first draft of arguably the greatest film of all time, Citizen Kane.

+ Main Cast

  1. Gary Oldman as Herman J. Mankiewicz
  2. Amanda Seyfried as Marion Davies
  3. Lily Collins as Rita Alexander, 
  4. Arliss Howard as Louis B. Mayer
  5. Tom Pelphrey as Joseph L. Mankiewicz
  6. Charles Dance as William Randolph Hearst
  7. Sam Troughton as John Houseman
  8. Ferdinand Kingsley as Irving Thalberg
  9. Tuppence Middleton as Sara Mankiewicz, Herman’s wife
  10. Tom Burke as Orson Welles

+ Plot

The film follows the life of a famous Hollywood screenwriter Herman J. “Mank” Mankiewicz who is most famously known for co-writing the screenplay for the legendary film, Citizen Kane. While being a creative genius, Mank is an alcoholic and his witty yet pessimistic view of the world runs deep into the absurd Hollywood lifestyle of the Golden Age of Cinema.

For a decent amount of cash, Orson Welles hires Mank to write a screenplay for his debut film in Hollywood, serving as a ghostwriter to the script. But upon working on the script in just a few weeks time, Mank instantly grows attached to his work and perhaps the cynicism of his finally breaks down as he starts considering Citizen Kane as his most personal work ever.

+ High Points

i – Since its a David Fincher film, one can expect precision in its craftsmanship and Mank does not disappoint in the slightest. Sharp, witty banter between the legendary idols of Hollywood really brings authenticity yet charm to the center stage. The composition, set designs, aluminous lighting, montages (especially the election night scene); everything comes together to convince the audience that they are in fact, watching a film from the Golden Age of Hollywood.

ii – Mank was originally filmed in 8k but brought significantly down to film resolution of the 1940s. With cigarette burns, dust particles added to create the illusion of a dusty old film reel, Mank is visually impressive and remarkably visualized.

iii – As a film buff myself, it’s so much fun to see Hollywood greats like Louis B. Mayer, Irving Thalberg and of course, Orson Welles himself depicted onscreen and played wonderfully by all the actors embracing their counterparts.

iv – As far as performances go, Gary Oldman once again steals the show with his impeccable performance as the tired, old alcoholic genius of a writer Mank. This film would’ve never worked if not for its enigmatic lead and Oldman is more than up for the task.

v – The slow, anonymous music by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross really brings out the deceptive atmosphere of the Studio mandated Hollywood at the time. The full orchestral soundtrack has a touch of ‘Hitchcock’ to it. It’s memorable, brilliant and in the same vain as many works of John Williams, Bernard Herrmann and Alexandre Desplat.

+ Low Points

i – The biggest issue with Mank is the inaccessibility of anyone who is not knees deep into the Citizen Kane lore. As a viewer, you really need to have certain knowledge of William Randolph Hearst and the making of Citizen Kane in order to follow the film. Audience members who are not well rehearsed into any of this will most probably find the film dull and I really can’t blame them.

ii – Mank is very similar to Fincher’s previous film; The Social Network, for better and for worse. While its characters are all mostly interesting, each scene is cluttered with snappy dialogue and the result is mostly a dwindling sense of interest throughout the film. Not each scene is terribly interesting which endangers the viewer’s investment he/she has for the film. 

iii – For all that’s good about the film, Mank does lack the thread that binds the whole film together. There is no sense investment as a viewer that you want Mank to succeed writing that avant garde script that defies all expectations of Hollywood screenwriting. Scenes blend into one another, not creating any sense of progression as a narrative. By jumping between different timelines (the mid 30s and 1940), the film does try to justify Mank’s path to self-destruction but unfortunately, it’s not engaging enough to captivate your attention. 

iv –  The fictitious election night scene and fraud newsreel footage in the film really serve no purpose to the overall narrative of the film. MGM manipulated the media to spread false information? Sure, it fits the political climate of today but a baffling scene to insert into the film since this whole ordeal never happened in real life!

+ Overall

Mank is an Ode to old Hollywood and all its glorious past. In terms of its skills and craftsmanship, Fincher does everything right. But while you can admire and respect Fincher’s craftsmanship, the film lacks a sense of engagement to the overall narrative and is ultimately not an exciting experience that you would like to rewatch time and time again.

Rate: 3.25 out of 5 stars

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