Director: David Fincher
Writer(s): Jack Fincher
Cast: Gary Oldman, Amanda Seyfried, Lily Collins
Synopsis: Follows screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz’s tumultuous development of Orson Welles’ iconic masterpiece Citizen Kane (1941).
I doubt that when Citizen Kane initially flopped at the box office that Orson Welles knew the impact his film would have on history. Highly regarded as one of the best films ever made, and deservedly so, this movie put Welles on the map as a star in front and behind the camera. The film as a whole was nominated for 9 Academy Awards, while Welles was nominated for Best Director, Best Lead Actor, and Best Original Screenplay, the only three Nominations he ever received in his career (aside from an Honorary win in 1971).
He did manage to bring home one win that night for Original Screenplay, a win he shared with co-writer Herman J. Mankiewicz. This film, Mank, written over 20 years ago by David Fincher’s late father Jack, follows the story of the making of Citizen Kane, and a behind the scenes character that made one of the all-time great films, a possibility.
Similar to Kane, Mank is told through a series of flashbacks and memories that became the inspiration for Mankiewicz’s screenplay. And also just like Kane, Mank manages to be a journey through the life of Mankiewicz and the different hurdles and hoops he had to jump through to not only get his screenplay written in the allotted time, but also his fight to receive credit for a work that was so personal to him.
Which makes this the perfect film for David Fincher, because of how personal this story is to him. Fincher, who doesn’t write his own screenplays, creates a film that is a love letter to film history, his late father, and screenwriting as a whole. He manages to take his father’s, Jack, script, which was written over 20 years ago, and fit it just as perfectly today, maybe even more than it would have back when it was originally written. You can see how much David Fincher tried to honor his father, and the profession of screenwriting, in pulling different lines from the script and placing it directly on the screen to show the different passages in time.
But this was only one of the many small directorial choices that Fincher made that will ultimately win him his long-overdue Oscar. He fills this film with the right amount of flair, nuance, and exaggeration that creates such a beautiful expose of the story behind the film, and an exuberant look at Hollywood and films in the late 1930s. The production design really brought to life the feel of the time and Fincher’s direction gave off the glitz and glamour of watching a classic film in the modern-day.
While Fincher’s direction was hands down the best thing to come from this film, the acting from Gary Oldman and Amanda Seyfried were a close second. Each of these actors gave a powerhouse performance that belongs with some of their absolute best work. Oldman, playing Mankiewicz, is a guy who might be in over his head, but never realizes it. He speaks more than he writes and he likes to be in the middle of every situation. Oldman plays this with such class and dignity to where we really care for Mank as a person. We know the issues he has, and those issues maybe could have even been more fleshed out, but we still manage to want the best for him even through some of the worst times. One scene, in particular, involves some of the finest acting you will see all year.
Seyfried on the other hand completely and utterly dissolved into the character unlike she has ever done before. This is her absolute best performance and there is no debate about it. As Mank’s biggest inspiration, she doesn’t have any jaw-dropping monologues or any daring lines of dialogue, but it isn’t what she says that is so powerful, but what she does. Seyfried loses herself in the role and completely becomes Davies for the extent of the film. She doesn’t have to speak to us much, because she manages to perform so well in the role she was given.
On the technical side of things, this is altogether one of the most put-together films I have seen this year. The cinematography had some moments I didn’t love, but overall the ability to capture the feel and essence of classic Hollywood in today’s day is a marvel itself. It gave me a similar feel that Roma gave a few years back in how well it captured history on screen. The score from the Nine Inch Nails duo was the icing on the cake that truly transformed this movie into the classic Hollywood-esque film it was shooting to be.
However, for all the positives this film has, there is one massive negative that will turn a lot of people away, and that is with how truly dense this film is. You may be wondering if you need to watch Citizen Kane before seeing this movie, and I would answer with a resounding yes. There are many different callbacks and notions to Kane that made me happy that I was able to rewatch the film before seeing Mank.
David Fincher has a way to make some incredible moments in film that attract anyone and everyone who sees it. You could call the lack of accessibility in this film a negative, but Fincher greatly makes up for that in giving us his most personal movie to date, one that should win him his first Oscar. A film where you can visibly see the care and love he put into making this movie. This film is for the writers, the filmmakers, and the lovers of classic cinema, and Fincher’s ability to recapture some key cinematic achievements should make this a must-see for true film fans everywhere.
Final: Fincher, who doesn’t write his own screenplays, manages to craft a beautifully made love letter to film, his father, and yes, screenwriting. Mank isn’t as groundbreaking as Citizen Kane, but very few films are. Incredibly dense, but Fincher’s wonderful and personal direction coupled with his father’s screenplay and a pair of great performances from Gary Oldman and Amanda Seyfried make Mank a must-see for any film aficionado.
Current Tomato Score: 88%
Current Metacritic: 80
Awards Prospects: Picture, Director, Actor, Supporting Actress, Original Screenplay, Cinematography, Score, Sound, Production Design, Film Editing, Makeup & Hairstyling, Costumes
Jacob is a film critic and co-founder of the Music City Drive-In. He is a member of the Music City Film Critics’ Association and specializes in the awards season. You can find him on Twitter @Tberry57.