“Citizen Kane” is often considered one of if not the greatest movie of all time. Its legacy has grown to the point where the name “Citizen Kane” has become an adjective to signify something as among the best in its specific artform or genre. Most people familiar with the film connect it to its star and director Orson Welles, but a lot of people overlook one man who is often considered the true artistic genius behind the film, screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz. In a strange way it seems fitting that Markiewicz would get his own film over Welles seeing as Welles’ career is legendary while Markiewicz contributions are often downplayed making his story one of those underdog-style tales that Hollywood loves to embrace. Thankfully the story ended up in capable hands with David Fincher behind the camera as director adapting a screenplay from his late father Jack Fincher into the Netflix biopic “Mank” producing what is undeniably one of the best films to come out of a rocky 2020.
“Mank” stars Gary Oldman as Mankiewicz and explores his conception of the screenplay for “Citizen Kane”. Legend has it that Mank wrote the screenplay using inspiration from his real life relationships with Hollywood elites and as such the story is presented in a series of flashbacks coinciding with his writing in the “present day” 1940s with the likes of Amanda Seyfried, Tom Burke, Charles Dance and others playing real life figures like Marion Davies, Orson Welles and William Randolph Hearst. The film is even shot in black and white as a callback to “Citizen Kane’s” classic look. Going into the film I was quite intrigued how the story would be presented. Fincher is always a masterclass director, but a story surrounding a man who is often denied his credit for the “greatest movie ever made” deserved a film that respects the drama and hardship he faced without turning his story into a drag. As I said, the property was in the right hands as David and his late father and screenwriter Jack Fincher turn in an energetic, engaging, amusing and honest flashback to the middle years of Hollywood’s Golden Age.
David Fincher takes his father’s screenplay and brings out every ounce of life he can find from it. Right from the start I found myself glued to the screen as the quick pacing, instantly enjoyable script and black and white aesthetic drew me in to the story it was about to tell. The film never let up from there switching between flashbacks and Mank’s writing sessions in the 1940s seamlessly interweaving real life events with Mank’s writing sessions to take us into the mind of a screenwriter and show us the creative process like we’ve rarely ever seen on screen. The Fincher’s took the art of screenwriting and, fittingly enough through great screenwriting and direction of their own, capture the complexity and risk associated with adapting from inspiration without overpowering the intriguing real-life drama. It’s a fine tribute to the art as well as providing careful but unapologetic insight into how writers were, and often still are, treated by studios and directors when adapting their works. The story does require careful attention and investment, but it’s not so complex that it’s tough to follow or leaves you frustrated. There’s always something going on, always story threads that tie together and some pretty awesome character moments and exchanges that help capture the relationships Mank had with these people and give us insight not only into his perspective, but also those of the people who served as inspiration for his masterpiece.
Gary Oldman is the star of the show as Mankiewicz once again losing himself in the guise of a real-life figure of history. Oldman’s charm and flawless delivery add so much to Mank as a character helping us understand a lot about him without having to be spoon fed everything from surrounding characters. He’s far from the only good thing about this cast though. Amanda Seyfried is equally impressive as Marion Davies including sporting a Brooklyn accent, Lily Collins serves as a stern but caring secretary to Mank named Rita Alexander, Tom Burke turns in a spot-on portrayal of Orson Welles which, despite his limited screen time, is one of the most memorable performances in the film, and Charles Dance is mesmerizingly devious as William Randolph Hearst. hese are just a few notable performances with the likes of Arliss Howard, Tom Pelphrey, Sam Troughton, Ferdinand Kingsley, Tuppence Middleton, Joseph Cross and others all filling out a committed cast. The addictive dialogue keeps the action moving and makes sure everyone has something to do on screen with few moments wasted. The cast does a truly amazing job keeping pace with not only the dialogue and quick-moving story but also with each other as nobody seems to miss a beat showing that not only was this a labor of love from Fincher, but from his actors as well.
I also enjoyed the aesthetic of the film and the little touches Fincher put in. Not only is the movie in black and white, matching both the era of filmmaking is depicts and the visual style of “Citizen Kane”, the sound has a retro style to it which is by design to also fit the era without sacrificing clarity. There’s even some fun touches like “cigarette burns”, a term that those familiar with Fincher’s famed movie “Fight Club” will recognize, adding to the film’s classic aesthetic by mimicking elements of reel-to-reel cinema and on a digital streaming service no less. The cinematography also seems to echo some of the well known tricks used by Welles in “Citizen Kane” often shifting perspectives and angles in an attempt to show or do something different possibly to give us a unique look at what’s taking place. These little touches might go unseen to those simply looking to enjoy the film on a surface level, but for me they made for a complete experience complimenting a great story, fun script and excellent performances, direction and cinematography that make this one of 2020’s best.
At one point in this movie Mank says ““You cannot capture a man’s entire life in two hours. All you can hope I to leave the impression of one”, which is a fitting description of why this movie is so good. It’s a film about a screenwriter that itself is very well writer and not only understand how to tell a story, but shows us through both it’s titular character’s own creative process and also by its own example. “Mank” pays tribute to the history of cinema in America while also pulling few punches on showcasing how overlooked and underappreciated writers can be in that creative process. David Fincher takes his father’s screenplay and does everything he can with it creating yet another masterpiece in his illustrious career. Complimented by spot on performances bringing to life an entertaining and engaging script and screenplay as well as using a subtle but effective artistic approach to transport us to a bygone era of cinema, “Mank” is truly the full package. By the halfway point I knew I was viewing something always destined to be one of the best movies of the year even if 2020 was able to bring about its full slate. Netflix has had a lot of films contend for Oscars in the past, and for me I’m hoping this film becomes a deserving contender to possibly be the service’s first ever Best Picture winner.