“Mank” is a biographical drama about screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz and his development of the screenplay Citizen Kane (1941). Directed by David Fincher, based on a screenplay by his late father Jack Fincher, the film was produced by Ceán Chaffin, Douglas Urbanski, and Eric Roth. While I view “Mank” as a great production, I don’t think it’s for everyone. The movie is filmed in black and white and draws its breath from an old Hollywood era, soaked in thick industry lingo.
In 1940, RKO provides Orson Welles (Tom Burke) complete creative freedom for his next project. Welles recruits Herman J. Mankiewicz “Mank” (Gary Oldman), who is in Victorville, California recovering from a broken leg he sustained in a car accident. Herman dictates the script to his secretary, Rita Alexander (Lily Collins), who notices similarities between the main character and William Randolph Hearst (Charles Dance). Producer John Houseman (Sam Troughton) is concerned about Herman’s dense, nonlinear screenplay, while Herman’s brother Joseph L. Mankiewicz (Tom Pelphrey) worries that it may anger the powerful Hearst.
Shifting in true nonlinear style, “Mank” bounces back to the year 1930 when Herman visits an MGM location where he and the female lead, Marion Davies (Amanda Seyfried), recognize each other. She introduces him to Hearst, her benefactor and lover, who takes a liking to Herman. In 1933, Herman and his wife Sara Mankiewicz (Tuppence Middleton) attend Louis B. Mayer’s (Arliss Howard) birthday party at Hearst Castle with many Hollywood bigwigs. They discuss the rise of Nazi Germany and the upcoming gubernatorial election, in particular candidate Upton Sinclair (Bill Nye). Herman and Marion go for a stroll, where they bond over discussions on politics and the film industry.
In the meanwhile, “Mank” shifts back to 1940 where John Houseman grows impatient over Herman’s lack of progress. Rita is also concerned with the timing of the writing, as well as Herman’s alcoholism, however, he eventually finishes the screenplay in time. Houseman is impressed but reminds Herman that he will receive no credit for his work. Shifting to 1934, Herman and Joseph begin working at MGM under Mayer. Studio executives, including Irving Thalberg (Ferdinand Kingsley), actively work against Sinclair’s gubernatorial campaign. The studio produces propaganda films for a smear campaign, funded by Hearst, against Sinclair.
As is obvious, “Mank” shifts back and forward between the 1930s and 1940, not an easy format to follow. None-the-less, I’ve done my best to make it flow. I did like the film but am not a real fan of this style of movie formatting. There is, of course, much I didn’t reveal for the obvious reasons. Many other Hollywood icons are portrayed, including George S. Kaufman, Greta Garbo, Josef von Sternberg, Norma Shearer, Eleanor Boardman, Joan Crawford, Charlie Chaplin, Geraldine Fitzgerald, Billie Dove, Rexford Tugwell, Bette Davis, Clark Gable, Charles MacArthur, Darryl F. Zanuck, S.J. Perelman, Carole Lombard, and Eddie Cantor. The acting was absolutely brilliant and the view aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes reports that 83% of 321 critic’s reviews were positive, with an average rating of 7.6/10. The site’s critic’s consensus reads: “Sharply written and brilliantly performed, “Mank” peers behind the scenes of Citizen Kane to tell an old Hollywood story that could end up being a classic in its own right.” According to Metacritic, which compiled 52 reviews and calculated a weighted average score of 79 out of 100, the film received “generally favorable reviews”. Mank received 6 Golden Globe nominations and streams on Netflix — Check It Out!
[MANK Is Oscar-nominated at the 93rd Oscars for Best: Picture, Actor, Supporting Actress, Director, Cinematography, Costume Design, Makeup and Hairstyling, Original Score, Production Design, and Sound — Totaling 10 Oscar Nominations]