At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Mank “2020”

MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Biographical Drama/ Stars: Gary Oldman, Amanda Seyfried, Lily Collins, Arliss Howard, Tom Pelphrey, Sam Troughton, Ferdinand Kingsley, Tuppence Middleton, Tom Burke, Joseph Cross, Jamie McShane, Toby Leonard Moore, Monika Grossman, Charles Dance/ Runtime: 131 minutes

I would like to start this review off by stating something that you may or may not know dear reader: the film masterpiece that is Citizen Kane is one that is way more than just a narrative which deals with the ascension and vast void in the life of fictitious rich guy Charles Foster Kane. Indeed much in the same vein of any slice of cinematic pie that is seen as one of the finest ever made, its iconic status extends way to beyond to what is shown on that celluloid screen as we see that even the behind the scenes machinations involved in its making and its impact from a pop culture point of view both manage to contribute to what this film has managed to achieve in the world around us. One thing is for sure though: it really truly is an astonishing tale of courage and rebelling against the establishment from those who brought it to life and who risked so much to make that possible. Yet even though for 99% of the film going community the name that they immediately think of in that regard is Orson Welles, I feel that the name that should be referenced more often is that of one Herman J. Mankiewicz or Mank for short. As a result we get a way to make sure that we don’t ever make that mistake again in the form of iconic film helmer David Fincher’s latest slice of cinematic pie known as Mank and thankfully it is a truly wonderful movie. Indeed here is a slice of cinematic pie that is in equal measure a straight up biography whilst also a cinematic tribute and while making a film in either of those styles always comes with the gamble of falling too much in love with the subject you are talking about, this film is able to walk across that tightrope in such a manner that it results in the movie being both terrifically novel and also an intriguing supplement to have on standby for a double feature with the aforementioned Citizen Kane. I say that because not only will this increase your respect for the truly iconic film from that long gone year of 1941 which is at the heart of this film’s story, but it also manages to provide us with a riveting saga about one of the more unique people to ever grace the lots of old school Hollywood back in the day. Of course there is also a very Meta aspect to this whole thing as well when taking into account the fact that this film’s script was first written in the 90s by Fincher’s dear ol’ dad Jack who sadly died in 2003 before the film could ever get off the ground. Yet you shouldn’t worry about this film being dated in any aspect dear reader because I can honestly tell you that that, especially when taking into account Mank’s brazen and quite bold political beliefs, this film is more relevant today than ever before. Suffice it to say then that thanks to a winning script, terrific work by Fincher and his crew behind the camera, and a top-notch cast led by one of my perennial favorite screen icons in the form of Gary Oldman in the lead, Mank really is true blue movie magic at its finest.

The plot is as follows: Mank introduces us to our intrepid titular hero in what he would refer to as in media res as we see that this distinct vet of the Hollywood seen has just agreed to make capital use of his time spent recovering from a terrible car crash to handle a new writing assignment from a young up and comer in Hollywood by the name of Orson Welles. It seems the young wunderkind helmer has been offered the, at the time, unheard of chance to make his film debut with no studio restrictions to hold him down. To that end, we see that he has selected Mank, who is seen as a bit of a maverick in the industry, to provide him with a first draft for his screenplay in no less a time than 2 months….even though our intrepid hero is aware that he is since he is only technically acting as a script doctor the odds of him receiving credit for the script is slim to none. Be that as it may be though, Mank still does his best to make the most of it courtesy of spending the majority of his day in bed writing down notes and then reciting finished pages to a typist Orson has hired to aid him by the name of Rita Alexander while finding himself engaged in combat against both his deadline and his vices primarily alcoholism. Yet while the film that will one day come to be known as Citizen Kane is being conceived, we are also witness to a series of flashbacks from Mank that take us all the way back to the 1930s which are integral in their revelations of who he has motivated him to write what he is especially when it comes to an alluring actress by the name of Marion Davies, the particularly slimy (at least in Mank’s eyes) head of MGM one Louis B. Mayer, and Marion’s lover/infamous newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst…..

Now more than anything else I strongly believe that it was film helmer David Fincher’s persistence in wanting to make this film in black and white rather than color which proved to be the big detractor that resulted in this film not being made over 2 decades ago, but at the same time I do believe, having seen the final film, that he was right in his desire to make the film in this manner. Indeed that is because making the film in that style results in quite a few doors being unlocked so the helmer can utilize all kinds of tributes to the iconic aesthetic of, what else, Citizen Kane with the extra effect of you being taken instantly back to the time the film takes place in. Indeed whereas some moments are more overt than others, including a shot of Mank dropping a bottle of booze in the way Kane drops his snow globe, but otherwise it’s all about winks and slight nods including a wonderful utilization of deep focus by the cinematography department and by the composing department creating this film’s score through the utilization of instruments that were specific to that time and place. Yes to be fair he may have shot this film digitally, but Fincher does in all fairness deploy the use of cigarette burns to your viewing experience on Netflix courtesy of blips in the top right corner of the screen. Not only that, but by in order for them to operate as an extension of just who our intrepid hero is from a career perspective, the film also chooses to set up each flashback sequence with a stamp of sorts that looks like a written on a typewriter scene header which id’s both the year this flashback is occurring and where it is taking place which manages to be another brilliant method the film uses to go back to the style of Citizen Kane. Yes they are not directly comparable by any means, but Fincher’s slice of cinematic pie does immerse itself in the saga of Herman Mankiewicz with the exact non-linear storytelling manner that Mankiewicz himself used to bring the tale of Charles Kane to life and even does it with the same riveting degree of efficiency to the point that it really does conjure up quite the look at a very intriguing individual in the world of old school Hollywood.

With that being said, it should be noted that if you were to see Mank as simply being about nothing more than Hollywood back in the day as well as the making of the masterpiece of the film that is Citizen Kane would not be accurate in any way to this film. Indeed it would be like if Citizen Kane was simply about Kane building his empire. Yes this film is not exactly modest when it says that Kane is easily Mankiewicz’s magnum opus, but what Fincher father and son have managed to conjure up here is a slice of cinematic pie about a truly distinct man. That is because when we first lay eyes on him we get the vibe that the man in front of us is at best a fool and at worse a severely eviscerated alcoholic who has way too much charm with the ladies and who makes bets that are just downright outlandish, but as the film goes on we see that this is balanced out with discoveries that Mank usually is the most intelligent guy in any room as well as unwilling to keep his ideas to himself regardless of who he is spending time with. Indeed at this time in the United States where the elite were ok with looking the other way when Hitler was on the rise, Mank was always willing to go toe to toe with such men as Louis B. Mayer and W.R. Hearst in front of their peers and not be afraid in the slightest of any fallout whatsoever. Thus we see that while this maverick streak is one that conflicts with his chosen career, but of course it’s because of just who he is as an individual and the set of morals he has on his person that are why he and only he could help to bring to life one of the finest films in the history of cinema.

Now in terms of technical ingredients in this film, I can honestly say that the script which was penned by Fincher’s dear old dad is truly intelligent in regards to both its narrative structure to say nothing of its attention to detail (heck the wit in this is so sharp that you could literally bring a tree down with it) and a top notch cast has been assembled to bring it vividly to life with lead actor Gary Oldman in the titular role giving us one of the finest roles he has ever played which is quite the thing to say especially when we are not even, at the time of this writing, 5 years removed from his Oscar winning role as Churchill in Darkest Hour from 2017. Indeed more than just his typical gift for immersing himself in the part, Oldman also here manages to check all the right boxes and as a result be able to rivetingly showcase for us the truly unique man that Mankiewicz was and thus give us a performance that is truly pitch perfect from beginning to end. Now with Fincher deciding not to go the typical A-List ensemble cast style, Oldman finds himself backed up by actors who are mostly known for their talents as character actors. Yet this works to the film’s benefit as not only does it make the film more immersive, but it leads to some truly surprising performances. Indeed anyone who has seem in any role he has played before this knows full good and well that Charles Dance can with ease give off a ominous vibe and with that he does an outstanding job in the role of W.R. Hearst. We also get brilliant work from Tom Burke who makes the iconic Orson Welles someone who is both intense yet enigmatic, Arliss Howard who is delightfully despicable as Louis B. Mayer, and Amanda Seyfried who is truly magical as Hearst’s mistress/aspiring actress Marion Davies. Indeed not only is her Brooklyn-articulated charm spot on, but she also manages to contribute quite the intriguing complexity to the narrative especially when you discover that she helped to inspire the creation of a certain character in the film Citizen Kane itself (and no it’s not the sleigh…..nice try though).

All in all I am pleased to say that as a slice of cinematic pie, Mank manages to quite on purpose place itself smack dab in the crosshairs of a genuine giant in the world of movie magic in the form of Orson Welles’ truly iconic masterpiece Citizen Kane and then has the guts to virtually at every single minute in the film dare the viewer to try and compare it to the aforementioned slice of cinematic pie. Suffice it to say then that this risky, gutsy, and quite ballsy behavior is one that is carried out courtesy of a truly remarkable eye that by and large makes this an absolutely riveting viewing experience. Indeed at the end of the day Mank is a slice of cinematic pie that is in equal measure both gorgeous and intelligent and riveting and quite revealing as well. More than that though it is proof of Gary Oldman, and a truly remarkable supporting cast’s, talents as a thespian, David Fincher and his talents as one of the more gifted and unique film helmers operating today, and is a movie that is truly one of the better cinematic offerings of the truly topsy-turvy year that has been 2020. On a scale of 1-5 I give Mank “2020” a solid 4 out of 5.