Mank Review

I’ve never watched Citizen Kane.

It’s a damning thing to admit to for any supposed film critic, but there’s just something about old films that I find inherently boring.

Kind of like The Beatles back catalogue.

Sure, we wouldn’t have the pop music landscape we have now without them – and you could probably argue Orson Welles 40’s classic has had a similar impact on cinema – but I’ve heard today’s music and I could live without this particular sonic landscape.

Which is a roundabout way of introducing David Fincher’s new film, Mank, a sharper than fiction take on the Oscar winning writing of Citizen Kane by one Herman Mankiewicz.

Although that is a matter of some fierce debate.

The eponymous Mank is a hard living, hard working writer responsible for rewriting scripts at MGM studios – the biggest film producer of the era.

When he’s not improving cinematic classics such as The Wizard of Oz with some of his bold ideas and renowned wit, Mank can invariably be found with either a drink, a betting slip or some impressionable ingenue in hand.

Much to his wife’s frustration.

But shit just got real – Orson Welles has commissioned Mankiewicz to write a screenplay for his new film, uncredited, and so our Mank reluctantly agrees to leave Los Angeles and head to the sticks so he can dry out and focus on his writing.

As he does, we’re introduced to how Mank let his life unravel to this point via the miracle of flashback, as he strives to create his defining work.

Written by David Fincher’s late father Jack, Mank is a razor sharp film about the story behind one of the greatest stories ever told on the silver screen.

Shot in black and white to show its ‘time’, Mank shines a light on the unheralded scriptwriter behind Citizen Kane, Herman Mankiewicz, his working relationship with the infamously overbearing Orson Welles and the real life people who allegedly inspired the characters of Welles’ opus.

Not that you need to have watched Kane to enjoy Mank – with its rat-a-tat dialogue and a-list ensemble cast, Mankiewicz comes off as just as witty on the big screen as he allegedly was in real life.

Gary Oldman plays the eponymous Mank, a sort of drunken uncle of his George Smiley character from Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy – slowly piecing together the pieces of his past and present as to craft what Mankiewicz acknowledges is the best thing he’s ever written even before he’s handed it over to Welles.

Fincher’s heavily stylised approached intercuts flashbacks to Mankiewicz’s relatively sober days as a champagne socialist, signposted by script annotations flashing up on screen as we watch the action unfold.

Amanda Seyfried, Lily Collins and Tuppence Middleton take it in turns to play leading lady opposite Oldman, with Seyfried’s look in particular evoking memories of Hollywood stars from a bygone era.

Of course, if you know Citizen Kane then you’ll know how this is going to turn out.

As we’ve established, i don’t… which only helped Mank keep it’s grip on me til the very end, rather than simply coming off as a love letter to one of the greatest films I’ll never see.

Jonathan Campbell

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Dates ‘n stuff

December 2020