Director: David Fincher
Starring: Gary Oldman, Amanda Seyfried, Lily Collins, Arliss Howard, Tom Pelphrey, Sam Troughton, Ferdinand Kingsley, Tuppence Middleton, Tom Burke, Charles Dance
Run Time: 131 mins
It has been an uncomfortably long wait for another David Fincher feature film, six years since his gripping and refreshingly unconventional adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s novel, Gone Girl. Since Gone Girl, Fincher has dabbled in television with the Netflix series Manhunter and was attached for a while to direct the now on hold sequel to World War Z.
Mank represents a passion project for the esteemed director and his father penned the screenplay before Fincher’s under-appreciated and infamous directorial debut Alien 3, a film that he has since famously disowned. Mank chronicles Fincher’s interpretation of Citizen Kane screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz, an alcoholic and unstable literary genius and his process of writing the screenplay. This would then go on to cause controversy over authorship of the script between Mankiewicz and director Orson Welles.
Mank is certainly not for everyone but given my fascination of the subject matter, I found a lot to admire here. Gary Oldman is superb as the titular character and this is a much more fitting and natural performance for him to win any Awards compared to his Oscar-winning turn in Darkest Hour a couple of years ago. Mankiewicz is a fascinating character and Fincher manages to perfectly encapsulate his genius, juxtaposed with his messy, incoherent descents into alcoholism.
Critics have also raved about Amanda Seyfried’s performance but both Lily Collins and Tuppence Middleton give far more nuanced performances as Mank’s secretary who he dictates the script to and his wife. Fincher’s depiction of women is particularly interesting, portraying them as motherly and sympathetic to Mank here, very much his voice of conscience. Charles Dance also features briefly as William Randolph Hearst, the tycoon that Citizen Kane’s Robert Foster Kane is based on and Tom Burke is mesmerising as Orson Welles, perfectly embodying the director’s towering and temperamental aura.
David Fincher’s films typically involve murder and grisly violence as a narrative and this represents a radical departure from his usual subject matter. The script has an Aaron Sorkin-like talky nature and the dialogue is razor-sharp and rich. Like Citizen Kane, Mank is also non-linear in its storytelling and on a first viewing, its structure rather messy and clouded.
Technically, this film feels like it’s straight out of the Hollywood Golden Age from the black-and-white photography to the carefully crafted cigarette burns of the film at certain moments. This is complimented by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ sympathetic, swooning score and there are multiple shots here by Erik Messerschmidt that are beautiful to behold. Citizen Kane is famous for its shot early on with the young Robert Foster Kane playing outside in the snow, unaware of his impending fate as the camera tracks to inside the house where his parents are sealing his fate, the window behind acting as the young Kane’s prison. Mank also does this to a degree and it will be interesting to rewatch this film to see what else can be discovered visually.
Ultimately, Mank is a different type of film for Fincher but one that retains a lot of his artistic qualities. It will be divisive amongst audiences but if the subject matter appeals and you appreciate Citizen Kane, this is a very fine companion piece to what is considered one of the most iconic and memorable films ever made. I’m not sure at this point how well Mank will do in the upcoming Awards season but despite its messy structure, this is a film that often soars more than it misses.