David Fincher Dives Deep Into Film History With His Masterpiece, Mank

82/100

In preparation for Mank, I rewatched (approximately for the 3rd time) the masterpiece known as Citizen Kane. And while I could go on and on about how much it has grown on me over multiple viewings and how it’s now my 20th favorite film, what I really want to talk about is the extremely innovative script written by Mank (Herman J. Mankiewicz). What Mank managed to accomplish with the uniquely structured script is nothing but amazing. Scholars have published document after document about how and why it’s such a masterpiece. But, the story behind the script is almost as intriguing as the script itself.

In 1971, the great Pauline Kael wrote an essay about the production of Citizen Kane titled “Raising Kane.” It ignited a very popular debate on who was the actual writer of Citizen Kane, and if Welles rightfully credited the amount of work to Mankiewicz. I think that most film schools make their students read “Raising Kane” to understand such a complicated moment in film history, and in the process has ultimately made the book more popular. It’s obvious that the book would receive film recognition, just as “Hitchcock / Truffaut” did in Hitchcock / Truffaut. The plot of Mank basically unfolds in the same way Kael used as evidence for her essay.

Mank follows two important chapters in the life of Herman J. Mankiewicz. One being the time he spent writing Citizen Kane, while also struggling with his alcohol addiction; and another following the many people he meets and befriends while working at MGM during 1930s Hollywood.

This film is the ultimate passion project for David Fincher. His father, Jack Fincher, wrote the script back in the late 90s, albeit somewhat historically inaccurate. Fincher has been wanting to make this film, using his father’s script, for the past 30 something years, and it just now finally released. By watching any Fincher film, one could clearly see that he is a certified film buff. From the nods to past films and influence garnered from the best of the medium, Fincher frequently flexes his knowledge in film. Mank is far from being different in that respect. Mank expresses the film-lover that Fincher has always been, this time in a more recognizable state. But the weird thing about all this is that Mank doesn’t really feel like a film directed by David Fincher at all. It almost seems like it was directed by Billy Wilder to some extent. Luckily, Fincher’s absence of auterism isn’t one of the flaws in Mank.

Mank delivers close to greatness in writing, directing, and almost everything in between. Jack Fincher’s dialogue is excellent for a first-time screenwriter. It’s fairly sad that he passed away leaving behind only one script that was made into a movie, since I would surely check out his other work. Both Fincher relatives deliver amazing works in their respective mediums. David Fincher made an odd and somewhat cliche choice to have the film be in black and white and with some “film grain” scattered around, which sometimes feels annoying yet acceptable. Almost every film that’s been produced in the past 20 or so years, that follows some part in film history where a lack of Technicolor was present, is filmed in black and white, and Mank sadly falls under that list of films. I don’t really understand why they do this in the first place, they didn’t use to do it back then. Singin’ in the Rain, though I didn’t really like it, is filmed in Technicolor even when it’s about a brief moment in film history. Same goes for Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, the film obviously follows 40s or 30s Hollywood, yet it’s filmed in color. I’m not saying it’s wrong to film in black and white to convey some moment in the past, but it’s annoying when it’s used over and over again for only “aesthetic purposes.” Schindler’s List and Cold War masterfully use the lack of color to help express the central themes and atmosphere present in the film.

I haven’t really seen that many films starring Gary Oldman, but just from this performance, I can easily tell how talented of an actor he is. I’m not quite sure on whether or not he qualifies as a method actor or not, but regardless of the fact, he really embodies Mank’s character in this film. I’m definitely going to check out other films that he stars in, most likely Sid and Nancy since I’m a fan of that genre of music. Lily Collins and Amanda Seyfried are both really good in this film as well. Charles Dance, who plays W. R. Herst, seems a little too cliche in his role though. He seems to be acting the same way every old person has been portrayed in years past. Apart from Dance’s performance, the rest of the actors and actresses do a remarkable job.

There are two main flaws with Mank. One being that the first act zooms by. The audience is only given a brief glimpse into some of the characters present in it. It’s as though Fincher sped up the pacing of the film at the beginning, and then cranked it back down for the rest of the film. Characters run around aimlessly and pop out of nowhere with little to no introduction. I only took off roughly 7 points for this, instead of a huge number of them, mainly because Jack Fincher’s clever dialogue is at its best in this part of the film. The other main flaw happens to be the small number of repetitive scenes. Fincher seems to shoot some of the dinner scenes exactly the same. There was one scene where I actually predicted what angle of the camera Fincher was going to film from and ended up being correct. Nearly every scene involving a lamp or light coming from a window ends in exactly the same way. The darkness will slowly grow into the screen while still leaving those producers of light fixated until they eventually darken. I don’t think that it’s that good of an idea to do that action over and over. Regardless of its flaws, Mank is a must-watch for any film buff. If you’re a huge fan of David Fincher’s style, then I don’t think I would recommend it as highly. One takeaway I got from this film was to make the choice to watch Orson Welles’s The Other Side of the Wind, which also happens to be the only film that he has directed that I haven’t seen yet, to help catch another glimpse into Orson Welles’s impact on film history.