“Mank” is directed by David Fincher (Fight Club, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) and stars Gary Oldman (The Darkest Hour, The Dark Knight), Amanda Seyfried (Ted 2, First Reformed), Lily Collins (Mirror Mirror, Abduction), Arliss Howard (Medium, True Blood), Tom Pelphrey (Guiding Light, Iron Fist), Sam Troughton (Alien vs. Predator, Chernobyl), Ferdinand Kingsley (Victoria, Dracula Untold), Tuppence Middleton (Jupiter Ascending, Sense8), Tom Burke (Only God Forgives, The Musketeers), Joseph Cross (Running with Scissors, Big Little Lies), Jamie McShane (Sons of Anarchy, Bloodline), Tony Leonard Moore (Daredevil, Billions), Monika Gossman (Maximum Impact, Iron Sky), and Charles Dance (Godzilla: King of the Monsters, Game of Thrones). Holy CRAP that’s a lot of people! This film takes place in 1930s Hollywood as we see a manipulative and striking piece of history play out all the while screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz tries to finish the screenplay for “Citizen Kane.”
I’m gonna let you guys in on a little truth I need to spit out. I have not seen any of David Fincher’s films. Not “Fight Club,” not “Gone Girl,” not even “Alien 3.” Therefore, “Mank” is officially taking my David Fincher virginity. I have seen a lot of the work from heavy hitters over the years. Christopher Nolan, Quentin Tarantino, Steven Spielberg, and Guillermo Del Toro. David Fincher for whatever reason was just one of those names I continued to avoid. So, what are my thoughts on my first encounter with David Fincher’s work?
If you want the truth, “Mank” is marvelous to the naked eye. Granted, this is a less than traditional looking film for the modern age. It’s presented in black and white, there are several scenes that are presented back and forth in time, and to establish such time frames, the film gives you a screenplay perspective where it tells you whether the scene takes place inside or outside, where specifically the scene is located, and when. I think that is a nice quirk that I have not seen in any other film. The cinematography is breathtaking and if it were not for “Tenet,” it could arguably be top dog for the year. The film has this throwback feel and there’s some echo-like sounds you can hear from one moment to the next. Fincher directs the crap out of this thing and each scene feels like it could only be put together by a true craftsman. There are a diverse amount of appealing sets that enlightened me as a viewer and allowed me to keep my eyes on the screen.
If only the story were significantly more interesting. Because “Mank” is forgettable, kind of a blur at this point, and certainly… BORING!
Now, let me just say, I like the concept of this movie. For starters, I am a lover of film history, which “Mank” centers around. And there have been examples of movies about film history that have been done well. A few recent examples include Disney’s “Saving Mr. Banks,” which dives into the production of “Mary Poppins,” and A24’s “The Disaster Artist,” which goes over the production and release of Tommy Wiseau’s “The Room,” one of the most hilariously awful movies to ever exist. In the case of “Mank,” part of what this film is about is the making of “Citizen Kane,” which many consider to be the most important film ever made. Although unlike those previous two examples, which go over the production of the film, this film centers a lot around pre-production and little bit more. There is so much to tackle and analyze in a couple of hours.
If 2020 has taught us anything just with the release of HBO Max’s “Superintelligence,” created by husband and wife team Ben Falcone and Melissa McCarthy, it’s that family projects do not always work. “Mank” is directed by David Fincher and written by his father, Jack Fincher, who passed away in 2003. Said father wrote the script in the 1990s but it never came into fruition until today. As happy as I am to see a family dream fulfilled, my time was nevertheless wasted.
Much of this film involves an election, which sort of makes today the perfect time to release this film considering how we just had a presidential election in the United States. I will say that such a part of film intrigued me, and that is somewhat surprising because as a film buff, that is not really what I was going into “Mank” to see. Even so, it delves into the concept of fake news, which is a relevant term nowadays, and if you think Hollywood is political today, as some people claim it to be, this movie paints a picture of Hollywood perhaps slightly manipulating the minds of people to have an election go their way. I just wish the impact of this subject matter, along with the rest of the movie hit me a tad more. I did not really feel anything except for my reclined seat throughout the film.
Although, some of the performances in “Mank” makes the feature worth the watch. For example, Arliss Howard does a fantastic job playing Louis B. Mayer, and I would not mind seeing him receive a Best Supporting Actor nomination in the future for the role. Although my favorite performance in “Mank” is from Amanda Seyfried. Prior to watching “Mank,” I liked Amanda Seyfried. That’s the case even in movies that I did not necessarily enjoy like “You Should Have Left.” Regardless of how much I wanted that movie to end as I watched it, I still think Seyfried gives it her all each time she performs. When it comes to her performance in “Mank,” this is easily her best yet. Part of it may have to do with the efforts from the costuming and makeup department, because whenever I am looking at her character, I do not feel like I am looking at Seyfried herself. On that note, she, along with “Mank” itself, does an alright job at providing a sense of immersion. I wish I left this film with a sense of being able to remember everything within a few days, but still.
And of course, you have Gary Oldman, who gives another great performance here. Oldman is a fine actor, although he is not my favorite of all time. Even so, I respect the man because he traditionally commits to his craft. While I would not consider his performance as Mankiewicz to be his best, Oldman does a great job in “Mank,” he has solid chemistry with Lily Collins during scenes they’re in together, and I do think he will be in a number of conversations during the awards season.
There are many films like “Dunkirk,” “Blade Runner,” and “Tenet” that I have been willing to give more than one watch because for all I know maybe I missed something the first time, or maybe my appreciation for those films could grow with each watch. I do not think “Mank,” as attractive as it is to the pupil, will end up being one of those films. It feels like a one and done deal. That’s really sad because I feel like this is the film, more than any other, that Netflix is going to hype up for the awards season. And it is deserving of nominations in a number of regards. Unfortunately, story and characterization might not be one of them, at least for me.
In the end, “Mank” almost stank. It was halfway decent, but could not quite stick the landing. If you want my recommendation, I will say as someone who has watched “Citizen Kane,” I think that it would be a better idea to watch that film, which “Mank” sort of bases its story around, instead of David Fincher’s latest directorial effort. I hope to maybe watch some of Fincher’s other films in the future when I have the motivation, but I do not know if I will have the motivation to watch “Mank” anytime soon. I’m going to give “Mank” a 5/10.
“Mank” is now playing in select theaters and is available on Netflix for all subscribers.
Thanks for reading this review! My next review is going to be for another Netflix original film, “The Midnight Sky,” directed by George Clooney. Before I saw this film, I was pretty excited to watch it as I am a sucker for space movies. As for my final thoughts, you’ll have to wait on those. Stay tuned! Speaking of staying tuned, if you want to stay tuned for more great content, follow Scene Before either with an email or a WordPress account! Also, check out my Facebook page! I want to know, did you see “Mank?” What did you think about it? Or, what is your favorite David Fincher movie? Let me know down below! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!