by Anton Charpentier
Mank is a strange film. If I woke up out of a coma and you told me David Fincher made a contemplative, black and white film, on the writing process of Citizen Kane... I would probably think that I was still in that coma. This film is a far cry from Zodiac, Gone Girl and dares I say it, Fight Club and the strangest thing about this movie is that I think it is my favourite film Fincher has made. Perhaps you could argue that he had done something similar with The Social Network, but the overall mood of the films are miles apart. I think what I am trying to say is that it is so unexpected, and damn it, I love it when filmmakers do that to me.
Mank follows Herman J. Mankowitz’s journey decade long journey in writing Citizen Kane. We watch this alcoholic, chaotic and brilliant writer stumble through success in a depression-era Hollywood. Internally, he battles with his conflicting privilege in the film industry, palling around with the likes of William Randolph Hearst (the not so subtle inspiration for Kane) and his political beliefs in socialism and unionization. Mankowitz also strikes up a deep platonic friendship with Hearst’s domestic partner Marion Davies, who ends up being the inspiration for the character of Susan Alexander.
Gary Oldman just kills it in his performance. It is the kind of performance that is just so perfectly in tune with the aura of the film that it does not stand out as being over the top or calls specific attention to his acting. Rather, his performance becomes the core of the film that grounds the entirety of the film. It reminds me of Yalitza Aparicio’s performance in Roma, there is just something these actors are doing that captures your attention but never ask you to notice it. I think few people will praise this performance as highly as I am, but I would argue that it's one of Oldman’s best works.
There is very little to complain about in the technical filmmaking in Mank as Fincher’s is notorious as a perfectionist. Mank is a departure in some respects as it never feels as fluid as his other films, particularly in the camerawork, but it works. If anything, Fincher seems to add in-camera flourishes that emphasize the black and white nature of the film, with many shots bringing a certain level of homage to Citizen Kane. If anything, fans of Orson Well’s masterpiece will at least enjoy the reverence for that film in Mank. I also found it funny that Fincher decided to make a film about the importance of the writer rather than the director.
My final point that I want to briefly highlight is the political nature of the film. I found this element to be perhaps the most surprising part of the film, especially the dedication to it. I would almost say that it changes my reading of Citizen Kane towards an anti-republican socialist manifesto, but I’d have to revisit the film in order to come to any conclusions there. There’s an interesting subplot in Mank about the influence of film on politics and the ramifications of the propagandistic nature of cinema as well as the Hollywood system. I cannot say too much more on this narrative thread as it spoils the best parts of the film. Suffice to say it is what makes Mank worth your attention.
Overall, I think Mank is one of my favourite films I have seen this year. I typically enjoy David Fincher’s movies and this one felt like an unexpectedly perfect Fincher film. There’s very few biographical or true story/making of movies that are actually compelling as a film itself and Mank definitely surpasses the rest of this genre’s ilk. Mank releases on Netflix on December 4th.