1930s Hollywood is reevaluated through the eyes of scathing wit and alcoholic screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman) as he races to finish the script for Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane.
David Fincher’s Mank should by all accounts be one of the greatest movies of the entire year. Citizen Kane is one of the greatest movies of all-time and is still being talked about nearly eighty years after its release in 1941. When a film is being talked about for that long, you know something must have been done right.
Mank was marketed as a companion-piece to Citizen Kane. A movie that might even further boost your viewing experience of Citizen Kane upon your rewatches, but Mank isn’t really about the making or writing of Orson Welles’ masterpiece at all. Yes, we do see moments in which Herman J. Mankiewicz sits down and starts to come up with ideas for what should happen in that film’s story, but really, Mank is about Mankiewicz’s life and the people around him.
Strangely enough though, the characters here are perhaps the weakest element to the entire thing. Mank succeeds in its small moments where we see two people talking to one another. It succeeds when it comes to its moments of quiet intensity and it excels masterfully on an acting level. Gary Oldman has rarely been better in the role of Herman J. Mankiewicz. I’ve seen dozens of Oldman’s movies and yet I could barely even recognize him here. His vigor and cut-throat intensity made him completely disappear.
But as great as Oldman is in this role, the film’s greatest display of amazing acting comes from Amanda Seyfried as Marion Davies, who was an actress. Seyfried is perhaps best known for her iconic and hilariously quirky performance in Tina Fey’s Mean Girls as Karen Smith, but those days are long gone. She has transformed from a fun comedic actress into one of the strongest dramatic actresses working today.
In the role of Marion Davies, Seyfried delivers a charming and uplifting performance, and quite easy one of the best of her entire career. I would be genuinely surprised if she wasn’t nominated at the forthcoming Academy Awards ceremony for her work here.
And really, the same can be said about all of the actors involved with Mank. You’ll probably see this film get a plethora of nominations come awards season, but I’m not sure that all of them will be deserved. A Best Directing nod? Yes. Best Actor and Actress nods? Yes. Best writing? I don’t think so.
There are lots of moments in Mank that feel like they lack a punch. Some moments feel genuinely strong and powerful, but there are some scenes sprinkled throughout in which I couldn’t help but feel as if they could have been done a little bit better.
As bizarre as it may sound, Mank sort of reminded me of Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk. An amazing movie that thrusts you into an enthralling battle. There were tons of things to enjoy and appreciate on-screen, but I just didn’t care whatsoever for any of the characters in the story. The same can be said about Mank.
At times, it even feels like we are watching somebody’s day-to-day life, and although it is definitely interesting at times and fun to watch thanks to Jack Fincher’s snappy and fast-paced dialogue, it often feels lacking in some departments. All in all though, Mank is definitely not a bad movie. It’s a good movie with some excellent performances and yet again terrific directing from David Fincher. It just lacks a gripping story and characters to care about. As a companion piece to Citizen Kane, it doesn’t do too much, but as an enjoyable one-time watch, it does the job.
Overall Grade: B
MPAA Rating: R for some language
Directed by: David Fincher
Distributed by: Netflix
Release Date: November 13, 2020
Running Time: 131 minutes