Mank is a gloriously well built film on a technical level, one which is expertly put together by director David Fincher. However, it’s a film without heart and narrative direction. Set in the 1930s and 1940s, the film is mainly about the writing of the cinematic masterpiece Citizen Kane by Herman J. Mankiewicz – the titular Mank. Fincher’s film is one which can be appreciated rather than enjoyed, and it’s really a piece for cinema buffs to ponder over, but it will ultimately leave the masses bored and confused.
Fincher’s film is something of a hagiographic piece with regards to Mank having written the screenplay for Orson Welles‘ Citizen Kane (the pair shared credit). This has been Hollywood scuttlebutt for decades – but the line between fact and fiction isn’t Mank‘s flaw. The main problem is the unstructured nature of the narrative – ironically a claim which a character makes about Mank‘s screenplay for Kane in the film. You could argue that the screenplay was mirroring the back and forth nature of Citizen Kane‘s screenplay- and maybe it was – but if that’s the case then it fails.
David Fincher’s father, Jack wrote the screenplay for Mank – and it was his first (and I believe only) attempt at writing for the medium. You can tell – it’s a film which doesn’t necessarily have a focal point on which to hang its hat. There was enough stuff going on that we didn’t really need to delve into the 1934 California gubernatorial election – which is complex enough for its own film. The screenplay was touched-up by Eric Roth, but there’s a meandering sensibility which still exists and this hobbles Fincher’s film, making it feel longer than its running time (130 minutes).
Mank features a great the score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, but it just doesn’t work for this particular film. It’s too over-blown and all-encompassing. It’s oppressive and it gives the film a claustrophobic quality. If Mank was a thriller it would have been fine, but it’s a drama with a drunk yet witty protagonist.
I enjoyed the technical aspects of Fincher’s film – the production design, the cinematography (hard to believe it was shot on digital), the sound – they were all first rate. The performances were excellent too – everyone delivers, especially Gary Oldman in the title role and Amanda Seyfried and Lily Collins. Notable mention must also go to Charles Dance‘s imposing Randolph Hearst and Tom Burke‘s bullish Orson Welles. They’re all on point and the dialogue is fine – it’s the plotting which is off.
Is Mank a bad film? No, far from it, it’s brilliantly made but it doesn’t work as a piece of finely tuned narrative filmmaking. There’s no drive, no momentum. I’m disappointed to say it, but I found Mank middling rather than masterful – and it upsets me to say that.