If you are reading this review there is a large chance you will get on with Mank. David Fincher’s latest is an ode to old Hollywood with plenty of talk about the machinations of studios in the golden age of Hollywood and a plucky, well-liked writer at the heart of it who may be an alcoholic but boy does he get the job done. Written by Fincher’s late father Jack Fincher, though obviously with some re-writing done to address rather more modern concerns, Mank is the story of Herman Mankiewicz, played with some wonderful humour hiding deep pain melancholy by Gary Oldman, the co-writer of Citizen Kane, and his dealings with Hollywood through the 1930’s but it does some trips down some narrative avenues which go through both the light and dark of the time.
His relationship with Marion Davies, a very nuanced turn from Amanda Seyfried who will be getting some solid attention come the delayed awards season, has some lovely platonic chemistry skirting around the more insidious material which comes later in the film with Charles Dance’s William Randolph Hearst, scary more for how chilled he is throughout than for any actions he takes on-screen, pulling strings which can’t be seen unless closer inspection is done.
The story itself has an awful lot on its mind. Ideas of media manipulation and fake news are brought up but frustratingly dropped again in favour of a late-film introduction of Mank’s determination to get credit for Kane, spurred on by employees of Orson Welles, well-played in his small moments here by Tom Burke, to get the job done with or without the bottle. If it sounds messy, that’s because it is a bit. As with Fincher’s other more personal work The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, made in the shadow of his father’s death, Mank wants to do an awful lot of things within its runtime, most of which works but that which doesn’t hurts more because of the overall quality on display. To be clear, there’s plenty to entertain and engage here but you do have to jump through some hoops to get there at times.
Obviously it being a Fincher work, the film is an absolute technical marvel also. Shot in black and white (but also “Hi-Dynamic Range” as the opening credits emphatically state), the film despite its pristine production feels like one which could have come from the era in which it was set thanks to little touches like cigarette burns, Fincher having fun with them just as he did 21 years ago with Fight Club, and wonderfully evocative opening titles, though its a shame they went with full colour for the Netflix logo, which immediately gets you in the headspace for what is to come. Trent Rezonr & Atticus Ross’ score also feels entirely simpatico with the era, both playful and jolly but also sorrowful but restrained when needs be, its not a score which announces itself like their previous Fincher work but also as with those films, the tone feels appropriate.
Given all the negative talk Netflix, some of it warranted, about what its doing to film culture, Mank feels like a film made as a response to this. For all the Netflix Originals which flood our queues with disposable entertainment or simply god-awful balls, Mank is another sign that they are a studio/service who also like to experiment. With all of this, it is a film out of time, one which if it weren’t for the seemingly bottomless pit of Netflix money would never get made and while its far from my favourite Fincher, its also a damn good couple of hours but I’d imagine more so if you’re already so inclined.