Review: Mank (2020)

Director: David Fincher
Screenwriter: Jack Fincher
Starring: Gary Oldman, Amanda Seyfried, Lily Collins, Tom Pelphrey, Arliss Howard
Genres: Comedy, Drama
MPAA Rating: Rated R for some language
Release Dates: 11/13/20 (Theatres); 12/4/20 (Streaming)
Runtime: 2h 11min
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 83%
Where to Watch: Netflix
Oscar Nomination(s): Likely–Picture, Director, Actor (Oldman), Supporting Actress (Seyfried), Cinematography, Original Screenplay, Original Score; Possible–Sound, Costume Design, Editing; Long-Shot–Supporting Actress (Collins)

This awards season has been thrown out of whack thanks to the pandemic, which caused many high-profile films to be delay their releases and/or to be released primarily (and, in some cases, solely) on streaming services/VOD. It’s easy to see that Mank, the latest film from David Fincher, the lauded director of The Social Network, Rooney Mara’s Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, etc. Fincher is as notorious for his difficult, strenuous directing style as he is for the popular, well-received films. As such, I was eagerly anticipating his next venture, which centers on Herman Mankiewicz, the Oscar-winning screenwriter of Citizen Kane, what many cinephiles consider the best movie of all time.

I have seen the 1941 film that features a terrific performance and direction from Orson Welles, which it made it easier to comprehend some of the events that transpire in Mank, which spans 1930-1942 (approximately). Perhaps the film didn’t grab be as I’d hoped, as I’d expected a Fincher film to do, because I am not well-versed in that era in Hollywood; other than Citizen Kane, I’ve seen very few films from that time period (one of my favorite movies of all time, It’s a Wonderful Life, notwithstanding). The attention to detail in Mank is impeccable, as would be expected in a Flincher-led production. The costumes, cinematography, and production design are all gorgeous and impressive, even in black and white. Fincher’s film so clearly imitates the style of Welles’ film, right down to the title cards in-between scene changes which appear as typewritten script. Mank is hardly a shot-for-shot imitation, but there are certain moments that remind me of those in Citizen Kane.

Perhaps I would’ve enjoyed Mank more — or at all, really — if I’d seen it in a theatre, rather than sitting at home watching it on my TV. Sure, it’s a not a stereotypical popcorn movie full of action (in fact, there’s very little action), but the high-wattage actors, director, and old-Hollywood look and feel to it probably warrant a big-screen viewing. That said, I’m glad I didn’t have to pay to see this movie, because it was somewhat of a disappointment. It’s difficult to harp on a movie that required a great deal of work on everyone’s part, and one that is receiving plenty of Oscar attention and will probably obtain numerous nominations (the Academy tends to go gaga for movies about movies). 

My primary issue with this film is that I just wasn’t invested in the characters and in the story. I’m sure that a significant amount of liberty was taken in presenting these events, in order to create more cinematic situations, but even the scenes that took place of film sets didn’t feel all that cinematic to me. The script, penned by Fincher’s late father, Jack Ficher, is mostly a mess; the scenes are seemingly thrown together — I’m sure they really weren’t — and the flashbacks seem to have nothing to do with the present-day events. 

Another thing that irked me was there is no real character development, unless you count Gary Oldman’s Mank’s downward spiral into a drunken mess character development. Oldman, however, does a fairly solid job in portraying Mank, and in one particularly fascinating scene, he gives a drunken monologue. He’s really as transformative here as he was in his Oscar-winning performance in Darkest Hour. That’s not to say he’s revelatory, and he’s sometimes upstaged by his female co-stars, including Amanda Seyfried as a very dynamic, no-nonsense Marion Davies, and Lily Collins as the stubborn, British typist Rita Alexander. Seyfried has been receiving all the praise and, while it’s probably her best, most unique performance to date, it didn’t wow me like I was expecting. Collins, however, was surprisingly great, putting on an  impressive British accent. There are also some strong supporting male performances, namely from Tom Pelphrey and Arliss Howard, but nothing that outshines the women. 

The end of Mank is very disappointing and I had one of those reactions like, “That’s it?!” (in a sarcastic tone). For a film that tries so hard, it certainly doesn’t appear like that. I will be very disappointed but not surprised when and if it ends up nabbing multiple Oscar nominations and wins, especially when there are other, more deserving eligible films. Still, I’d recommend people watch this, if only for the performances and the history (as inaccurate as it may be).