Mank is the latest feature from David Fincher, and follows Herman J. Mankiewicz, legendary Hollywood screenwriter and booze hound, in the writing of the screenplay for Citizen Kane, a film now considered to be on of the greatest of all time.
Herman J. Mankiewicz, just call him Mank, starts the film holed up on the outskirts of LA, his leg in plasters and only 60 days to write an entire script commissioned by boy genius Orson Welles (Tom Burke). As his scribbles turn to screenplay, so too does the past emerge in the same non-linear structure of Citizen Kane itself.
Shot entirely in black and white, with a period-perfect score, Fincher intentionally recreates the extravagant style of the studio-era classic, taking clear delight in recreating Hollywood’s Golden Age. Each shot is a feast of monochrome, as Mank spends his days pitching plots to studio heads in smoke filled rooms or waking up on the sets of Western B-movies, where cowboy stuntmen stand at the ready. Here he charms his way into the inner circle of William Randolph Hearst, the newspaper mogul and inspiration for the titular Citizen Kane, played with menace by Charles Dance. Amanda Seyfried provides a career-best performance as Marion Davies, the former silent film star and Hearst’s wise-cracking wife.
Unfortunately, for a film so focused on screenwriting, Mank’s plot becomes hard to follow, as movie magic sours into a slow moving third act. While film history buffs may delight in this virtual who’s who of the Hollywood studio system, the intense focus on politics, with plot points that only make sense after a Wikipedia search, Mank will likely alienate the average David Fincher fan.
While visually stunning and with a stellar cast, Mank’s complicated storyline ultimately feels like indulgent Oscar bait. Those expecting a sharp drama from the director of The Social Network or Gone Girl may be disappointed.
Mank screens on Netflix from December 4.
Reviewed by Gina Cameron