Before you watch Mank, the new Netflix original movie directed by David Fincher, you must watch the film Citizen Kane. I saw Citizen Kane, which some people consider the greatest movie ever made, very recently. Despite being set in an era with technical limitations, Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane showed impeccable technical quality. Mank by David Fincher is about the writer of the movie Herman J Mankiewicz who had a fall out with Orson Welles due to a credit sharing controversy. Even though it is that biographical documentation, Fincher follows the same screenplay structure of Citizen Kane in Mank to show us how this movie was written based on real characters.
So the plot here is pretty straight forward. In 1940, when RKO Radio Pictures gave Orson Welles complete autonomy over his next project’s execution, he decided to hire Herman J Mankiewicz, aka Mank, to write his new movie. After a car accident, Mank, who had broken his leg during that time, was given a nurse and a secretary to help him complete the script. Through portions that cut back to the ’30s, where we see significant events in Mank’s career, Jack Fincher’s script tells us how the movie Citizen Kane got its final shape.
I said one must watch the movie Citizen Kane in its entirety (not a YouTube summary) before watching Mank because Mank has some subtle details in almost every event we see in the flashback portion that adds to the script of Citizen Kane. In one scene, when we see Mank coming out of a mansion, the visual will immediately explain how the Xanadu concept materialized. We get to see the warm relationship between Mank and Marion Davies, and we realize that it is her input that made Kane’s story this lost childhood interpretation. It was pretty apparent that Mank was taking a dig at William Randolph Hearst through this movie, but like any other Fincher character, we get to see him as a flawed, real human being.
The movie is shown to us in Black and White format with that grainy texture added to it. Fincher even uses camera movements that are similar to the ’40s. As I already said, the back and forth style we saw in Citizen Kane is evident here. But he is not trying to make it a very obvious tribute. The deep-focus cinematography and precise character-blocking in Citizen Kane aren’t followed here. It was more about the process of a writer who never wanted to compromise, and for that reason, the story here had that layer of eccentricity. The back and forth style also help Fincher introduce key characters and their characteristics without going deep into their history. Erik Messerschmidt’s cinematography keeps the movie in that retro space. Even the edit transitions are done to give us a feeling that we are watching a film made in the golden age.
Gary Oldman, as the alcoholic Mankiewicz, delivers yet another brilliant performance. We see him in that irreverent and outspoken mood almost for 80% of the movie, and I loved the subtle transition that happens to his character after his brother tells him that Citizen Kane is his best ever creation. Amanda Seyfried, as Marion Davies, portrayed the dual nature of that character effectively. On one side, she is blabbering among everyone, and on the other side, she is opening up in front of Mank without any inhibition. As Rita Alexander, Lilly Collins also did a fine job as the secretary who got to know Mank over time. The casting was pretty top-notch, and the resemblances of certain characters were remarkable.
Mank is perhaps David Fincher’s tribute to the often less appreciated people in movies; the writers. And it also shows you the drama that happens behind the studio-driven show business. It somehow encapsulates how politics and moments are formed from harsh and ironic life experiences. How characters are created and how something like a “rosebud” was given an entirely different interpretation. I think watching Citizen Kane and Mank back to back can make you feel like a film scholar who knows the history, movie, and its legacy.
Mank is perhaps David Fincher's tribute to the often less appreciated people in movies; the writers.
Green: Recommended Film
Orange: Okay, Watchable, Experimental Films
Red: Not Recommended