1930’s Hollywood is reevaluated through the eyes of scathing social critic and alcoholic screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz as he races to finish the screenplay of Citizen Kane.
David Fincher is one of my favourite directors and it’s been a long six year wait since 2014’s ‘Gone Girl’, indeed the longest gap between films since he started making movies in the early 90s. His return is a bit of a passion project for the director, based as it is from a script by his late father Jack, centering on a bit of a forgotten figure in Hollywood history in Herman J. Mankiewicz, the man who wrote (or co-wrote) ‘Citizen Kane’. This is the background to ‘Mank’, a film which I expect will be adored by cinephiles and will perhaps struggle to appeal to the masses, given its relatively unknown central character, black and white cinematography and niche subject matter. It is a film for film lovers and I absolutely loved it, which wasn’t really a massive surprise to me!
‘Mank’ covers ten years in the life of Herman J. Mankiewicz, a maverick Hollywood screenwriter on the books of MGM under Louis B. Mayer’s charge, following the events that led up to him writing ‘Citizen Kane’. Fincher tells the story in a non-linear fashion, using flashbacks to key events that fed into the ‘Citizen Kane’ script, perhaps most notably Mankiewicz’s encounters with media mogul George Hearst (Gary Oldman), who would famously prove the inspiration for the film’s iconic protagonist, Charles Foster Kane. The film is superbly put together with brilliant editing and pacing, with a fabulous score and look that evokes the feel of old Hollywood movies, and on top of this it has a career best performance from Gary Oldman as the titular character. There will be many movies still to come out ahead of the later Oscars ceremony next year, but it’s going to take something truly special to best Oldman’s multilayered performance here – epitomised best in a phenomenal sequence at a dinner at Hearst’s mansion that acts as one of the most important touchstones in Mankiewicz’s journey towards Kane.
I’d have loved to see more of the ‘Citizen Kane’ stuff after the screenplay was written, but then that’d be a different film and ‘Mank’ is excellent as it is. If there’s one thing Hollywood loves, it’s movies about the art of moviemaking, and ‘Mank’ will tick a lot of those boxes for Oscar voters and I expect it’ll deliver a third Best Picture/Director nod for Fincher – on this occasion he might just be in with a shout of winning.
Directed By: David Fincher
Starring: Gary Oldman, Amanda Seyfried, Charles Dance, Lily Collins, Arliss Howard, Tom Pelphrey, Sam Troughten, Ferdinand Kingsley, Tuppence Middleton, Tom Burke, Joseph Cross, Jamie McShane and Toby Leonard Moore