“You cannot capture a man’s entire life in two hours. All you can hope is to leave the impression of one.”
They call Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane the best film ever made — often taking the top spot on most “Best of” lists while trying to fight off Alfred Hitchcock’s, Vertigo, a film Welles vehemently despised. With Citizen Kane’s groundbreaking filmmaking, it deserves a place among the greats. But the question at the forefront of David Fincher’s newest film, Mank, is who wrote the screenplay for one of the best films ever made?
Mank tells the story of Herman Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman), a down on his luck screenwriter, who finds himself on the outs of MGM studios due to the Great Depression and his drunken rants that often find himself in hot water with Louis B Mayer. The year is 1940 and RKO has struck a deal with a young 24 year old filmmaker, Orson Welles. Welles will have unprecedented creative control of his new project, for which he seeks out Mr. Mankiewicz to write the screenplay. This new project would become the masterpiece, the pinnacle of film history, the greatest film ever made: Citizen Kane. Mankiewicz secludes himself in a simple home, with only his dictation secretary, Rita Alexander (Lily Collins), at Welles demands that Mankiewicz write a full screenplay in 60 days. With the help of several flashbacks — marking his conversations with many powerful people — Mankiewicz gets to work on one of the most controversial screenplays in cinema.
It goes without saying that Gary Oldman gives his all to the characters he plays. His performance as Mankiewicz is nothing short of excellent as Oldman so brilliantly portrays the mind of a man, riddled with a drunken stupor, needing to put his words on the page. But as great as Oldman is, and believe me he’s wonderful, the standout of Mank is none other than Amanda Seyfried in her role of Marion Davies — the romantic partner of the mysterious William Randolph Hearst. Yes, the man who’s life provides the source material for Charles Foster Kane. Seyfried rules the screen with her charm and wit — electrifying every scene she’s in. I would even go as far to say that she out acts Oldman himself. The moments between Davies and Mankiewicz are genuine and add the much needed heart to the film. It’s a sweet friendship within the noise of Hollywood and political elite that surround them. But in real life, Davies’ career, which was already on the decline, was darkened by the shadow of Citizen Kane as her life imitated that of the emotionally beat character, Susan Alexander Kane. The ensemble work on display in Mank is extremely well done. There are no small characters in the film as each one has an important part to play in Mankiewicz’s life.
Director David Fincher has revealed in his movies the inspiration and his love for Citizen Kane. The “Rosebud Effect,” which boils down the main characters reasoning to one pivotal point in the movie, can be seen in Fincher’s, The Social Network. With that being said, this is Fincher absorbed within his own passion project. From the dialogue to the cinematography, each scene mirrors that of the aesthetic, and tone, of Citizen Kane. Mank is a beautiful film to watch that will no doubt please the eye. But beyond that of the look and extraordinary performances, Mank can’t quite hit the nail on the head.
I, personally, have great respect for Citizen Kane. But even as much as I appreciate such masterful filmmaking, I can’t quite dive fully into Mank. It’s extremely dry — emphasis on extremely. The funny moments, and I blend that with Davies’ charm, only goes so far. For those who don’t find their lives enveloped by the classic film era, or may not refer to themselves as die-hard cinephiles, they may have a hard time getting through this film. I don’t doubt the look or performances, but the screenplay is the weakest part. Funny enough, the screenplay isn’t up to par in a film about a screenwriter.
Mank is an homage, not only to Citizen Kane, but to everything classic film once stood for. It’s truly an examination of old Hollywood through its bright lights and political influence. It’s hard to full dissect a man as complex as Mankiewicz, but it does the job. Mank may not be one of Fincher’s best films, but it’s still a great one.
Directed by: David Fincher
Starring: Gary Oldman, Amanda Seyfried, Lily Collins, Tom Pelphrey, Arliss Howard, and Tuppence Middleton