Mank review: David Fincher’s ‘technically marvellous portrait of Golden Era Hollywood’

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Just how do you create the most celebrated film of all time?

Based on the true story behind the script for the lauded Citizen Kane, Mank sees director David Fincher tackle a true passion project and one from in the family too – his father Jack Fincher wrote the screenplay.

The film follows the witty, brutally honest, neurotic, but principled screenwriter Herman J. ‘Mank’ Mankiewicz ( Gary Oldman ) as he recovers from a broken leg and is approached by a creative wunderkind, director/actor Orson Welles ( Tom Burke ) to work on a new film with him.

As the script for their creative venture takes shape, with Mank aided by secretary Rita Alexander (Lily Collins), flashbacks show the writer’s relationship with both the powerful studio system and his primary subject: filthy rich and influential media mogul William Randolph Hearst ( Charles Dance ) and his longtime mistress, movie star Marion Davies ( Amanda Seyfried ).

Gary Oldman as Herman J. Mankiewicz in David Fincher's Mank
(Image: NETFLIX)

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On the face of it, Mank’s premise and subject matter would seem to appeal only to a cinephile or fan of a bygone era, but there also lies powerful themes of addiction, genius, collaboration, betrayal, and painful political home-truths.

Both David and Jack Fincher bring out Mank’s charm and brilliance but also his tiresome and explosive propensity to say exactly what he thinks.

Also evident is the corruption of the media and studio system amongst the dreams, glamour and escape that the industry also provides.

Amanda Seyfried as Hollywood starlet Marion Davies in Mank
(Image: NETFLIX)

Lily Collins as Rita Alexander opposite Gary Oldman's Mank in the film
(Image: NETFLIX)

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The performances are riveting but suitably restrained. Despite his character’s brash personality, it never feels like caricature or cliché as Oldman delivers a study of a genius intoxicated by talent, weariness, and – of course – alcohol.

The entire ensemble of supporting performances also offer detailed and perfectly judged portraits. Special plaudits must be given to both Dance and Seyfried.

Dance is quietly menacing, charismatic, and powerful as Hearst, yet still curiously unknowable. Meanwhile, Seyfried will likely garner awards attention for her charming, vibrant but quietly melancholy Marion Davies, a figure often dismissed from Hollywood history due to Mank’s perceived portrayal of her. Their friendship provides a particularly strong thread to the flashback sequences.

Arliss Howard as Louis B. Mayer and Charles Dance as William Randolph Hearst in Mank
(Image: NETFLIX)

David Fincher's latest film Mank is in crisp black-and-white
(Image: NETFLIX)

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Elsewhere, while only given enough to likely be seen by most as an imitation, Burke is pitch-perfect as the charismatic Welles, who is wisely used sparingly to enable Oldman’s anti-hero to take centre stage.

Not only are the performances and accompanying production and costume design wonderful to behold but everything behind the camera and in post-production is judged with minute detail, evoking the style of Citizen Kane itself and other stunning works of its era.

Cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt beautifully recreates a black and white haze and grandeur that feels ripped from the reels of yesteryear, while editor Kirk Baxter also helps realise this visual style masterfully with expertly judged pacing and sensory wonder.

Tom Burke as director/actor Orson Welles in Mank
(Image: NETFLIX)

Will Manks''s script for Citizen Kane bring him happiness?
(Image: NETFLIX)

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Impressively, the utterly impeccable sound design from Ren Klyce is perhaps the most immersive technical device utilised to recreate the cinematic style of Citizen Kane.

Longtime Fincher collaborators Atticus Ross and Trent Reznor also deliver a seamlessly blended and moody score befitting the origin story of Welles’s directorial masterpiece.

There isn't an aspect of Mank that hasn't been so meticulously judged that perhaps Fincher’s perfectionism has never been more evident than it is here.

Verdict

Mank is a stunning and technically marvellous portrait of Golden Era Hollywood that boasts wonderful performances, masterful cinematography and sound design, and director David Fincher once again at the height of his powers.

Mank is released on Netflix on December 4, 2020.

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