David Fincher has never been a director particularly interested in avoiding artifice. If it were, there wouldn’t be so many stories about his perfectionism and the meticulous attention that he pays to every detail of his films. Thus, Mank is a film made by the new Hollywood (Netflix) that emulates the old Hollywood, but never hides that it is precisely that: an artificial representation. From photography (digital, by Erik Messerschmidt) in black and white (which even draws on the screen the « cigarette burns » that meant a reel change), to the selection of actors, who, as in the case of Gary Oldman , they exceed the age of the characters they play sometimes by almost 20 years.
Mank is a film that takes place in the twelve weeks it took Herman J. Mankiewicz to write Citizen Kane. But, like the film that would result from that script, its structure goes back and forth between the past and the present: presenting us with flashbacks announced with titles that emulate the headline of each new scene in a script. Still, and despite the brief but effective visual references to « the best American movie ever made, » there is actually very little discussion or conversation about the film in the making. Rightly, Fincher doesn’t do what most traditional biopics do, that is, give the viewer a kind of “magical” behind-the-scenes look at the moments that resulted in the most iconic parts of a movie or song.
What he does do is recap his film – and this must be said, it is an entertaining but dense film – with everything necessary to understand the motivations for creating a character like Charles Foster Kane. Sure, we all know that in one way or another the character was inspired by media mogul William Randolph Hearst (here played by Charles Dance), but that’s just the tip of the iceberg of inspiration for « Mank, » who, despite from what the Citizen Kane credits say he is the sole author of the Orson Welles film. This last point, I should clarify, is the interpretation of David Fincher (and his late father, the journalist Jack Fincher, who appears as the author of Mank’s script), since the controversy over the authorship of Citizen Kane – started in 1971 by an essay by critics Pauline Kael – would give for an entirely different film.
Yet it is Mank’s build that hurts Fincher’s film the most. At times it feels somewhat disjointed and the viewer has no choice but to wonder where all this is leading. Fincher’s script sometimes forgets about the story and character construction, motivations, or plot, to focus on the (yes) extraordinary performances of the main and supporting cast. From Amanda Seyfried, as actress Marion Davies, to Lily Collins, as « Mank » secretary / assistant Rita Alexander, to the minor characters of Louis B. Mayer (Arliss Howard), David O. Selznick (Toby Leonard Moore) and other important characters of the time. In a situation uncharacteristic for David Fincher’s cinema, sometimes the film is pure « show » and little substance.
Still, the film works not as a love letter to old Hollywood (to begin with, no one in the film seems particularly satisfied with what they do), but as a portrait of an artist who, for the first time in his career In an industry he looked down on, he realizes the power he has in his hands. He realizes the responsibility that the entertainment industry has to the truth. Mind you, it never feels sobering and, although it does, the parallels with modern reality (about rescuing theaters during the Depression or glorifying a political candidate with propaganda) are not highlighted.
Original title: Mank
Director: David Fincher (Lost)
Actors: Gary Oldman, Amanda Seyfried
Release date:December 04, 2020 (US)
David Fincher Mank
J. Ivan Morales Writer, film director and editorial director at this, his friendly neighbor film publication, Cine PREMIERE. You will never give up hope for a second season of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip and Firefly.