Mank

Rating: 3 out of 5.

About 40 minutes into Mank a mesmerizing conversation develops during a soiree. It’s a birthday party in San Simeon held in the honor of Louis B Mayer (Arliss Howard), the notable co-founder of MGM Studios. Powerful newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst (Charles Dance) is throwing the fete. Mayer and Hearst are close chums in case that wasn’t evident. The guests are having a discussion. Besides those luminaries, producer Irving Thalberg (Ferdinand Kingsley), Hearst’s mistress, Marion Davies, and writer Herman J. Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman), are also present among others. The debate is focused on politics. Specifically the current election for California governor between Upton Sinclair and Frank Merriam. The script is full of exposition . It’s extremely dense with words so there’s a lot to absorb, but the dialogue crackles. My favorite moment in the entire movie.

Mank has got to be the clumsiest title ever imposed on such an erudite work. My mind immediately goes to the low-budget science-fiction horror flick MANT! which was the schlocky B movie being promoted within the most delightful 1993 release Matinee. “MANT! Half Man, Half Ant – All Terror!” was the tagline. The “Mank” in David Fincher’s creation refers to screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz. He wrote the screenplay for Citizen Kane. At first, it appears the narrative will concern how Mankiewicz composed the script within the confines of the studio system. Maybe how he infamously butt heads with co-writer Orson Welles (Tom Burke). Nope. It is in reality an overarching tale about the politics of both Hollywood at the time and the influential executives behind the picture.

That perspective is somewhat interesting but not the chronicle I was expecting nor embraced. That earlier described party scene is such a wow because the discourse sparkles but it helps if you are well informed about the personalities involved. A key individual in attendance is Marion Davies portrayed by Amanda Seyfried. Here she reveals herself to be a smart girl disguised as a dumb blonde. The exchange doesn’t technically revolve around her per se, but she seizes our focus. Her presence energizes the room. In fact, every time she pops up, it invigorates the film. No wonder she’s already garnering serious Oscar buzz. Sadly she is merely a small cog in this machinery of people, places, and things. The account mainly revolves around the left-leaning Mankiewicz and his irritation with right-leaning 1930’s Hollywood. We are indeed provided many opportunities to sympathize with his point of view and his underdog status. Nonetheless, it doesn’t help that he’s also an alcoholic with a poor long-suffering wife (Tuppence Middleton). These qualities don’t exactly endear the audience to his sour character.

Mank is a labor of love. This is a clear tribute to one of the most critically acclaimed and influential pictures ever made. Like Citizen Kane, it features a spiraling saga in black and white and features dramatic use of close-up and lighting. For anyone who loves that masterpiece or behind the scenes dramas, this will hold a lot of allure. It’s also a tribute to the director’s late father Jack Fincher who wrote the screenplay. Jack Fincher most assuredly deserves an Oscar nomination for the conversation he penned at San Simeon alone. There’s another at a circus-themed banquet later. Where the first is a discussion, the second is more of a verbose monologue, or perhaps rant is a better term. The screenplay freely tosses names and events around so casually it’s almost impenetrable. I defy you to watch this without consulting Wikipedia. Film studies academics and people who worship Citizen Kane should be in heaven.

The extraordinary talents of the team behind the camera are the production’s greatest asset. The score (Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross), cinematography (Erik Messerschmidt), production design (Donald Graham Burt), and costumes (Trish Summerville) are gobsmackingly good and worthy of any and all accolades they acquire. However, their efforts are in ultimately service of an obtuse experience. Personally, I enjoyed the insidery window into Hollywood, but that was after watching it twice so I could fully comprehend the convoluted machinations. The first viewing felt like homework. The second time was more enjoyable. In the end, Mank is a movie that is easy to admire but hard to love.

12-04-20

6 Responses to “Mank”

  1. “The first viewing felt like homework.” Ugh, tell me about it. This happened to me with the first half hour or so of Uncle Frank.

    Did I make a mistake switching it off? Quite likely it was me just not being in the right mood. I love Paul Bettany so I feel obligated to continue it.

    Mank, on the other hand — ehh. I’m a Citizen Kane fan but for some reason this just doesn’t entice me all that much.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. My favorite part of this movie was the Hearst Castle. I loved that. I wished it would have been better. I did like Amanda, she deserves an Oscar nom. I was disappointed but liked it a little more than you did. 3 1/2 stars

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Bill Coady Says:

    I loved it. A well written movie about a well written movie. I’ve never been one to follow cinema that closely so award season is my excuse to go find the stuff I would have watched, had I been paying attention. If I have one nit to pick it would be that Mayer and Hurst are not fully realized characters in this movie, but so what, it’s not really about them, they are more setting than characters. The real characters in this movie are facinating.

    Liked by 1 person

    • David Fincher (Seven, The Game, The Social Network, Gone Girl) had always been one of my favorite directors. He knows how to tell a story with such style. There is much to admire about this. I wasn’t surprised it received the most Oscar nominations (10) of the films that are being honored this year. The ceremony will take place on April 25th. One of the few categories it missed was screenplay which I find especially odd because the writing is so great.

      Like

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