For whatever reason my Apple TV mirroring system wasn’t working last night, and so I was forced to watch David Fincher‘s Mank — a film I’ve been looking forward to for many months, and particularly Eric Messerschmidt‘s silver-toned cinematography — on a 15-inch Macbook Pro. I’ve very sorry this happened. I’ve been hoping all along to catch it at a select theatrical venue of some kind (11.13), but with infections recently spiking that seems unlikely.
But at least I saw it, and for that I’m very grateful. Mank is obviously a brilliant, highly accomplished virtuoso act, and totally locked for several Oscar noms — Picture, Director (Fincher), Best Actor (Gary Oldman), Best Supporting Actress (Amanda Seyfried), Best Cinematography, Best Production Design, etc.
It hopscotches all around in a non-linear way, which of course is a tribute to the Citizen Kane scheme. I adored the use of clackety-clack scene descriptions dropping into the frame. And I loved re-hearing the line “it’s not the heat, it’s the humanity.” (Which apparently wasn’t written by Herman J. Mankiewicz but Alan Jay Lerner for Brigadoon.)
Mank is a very fine exercise in smarthouse entertainment. The nutritional value of the dialogue alone (written by Fincher’s late dad, Jack, in the mid ’90s, and then rewritten by his son and Eric Roth) should not be under-celebrated. Altogether the film didn’t quite levitate me off the ground, it did put me into a kind of subdued swoon mode — a certain form of aesthetic rapture that leaves you quietly stirred and pacified. That’s a fairly rare thing.
What’s the basic Mank arc? Basically that even for a self-destructive boozer like Herman J. Mankiewicz, life took a turn for the better when Orson Welles came calling. And that despite the political intrigues and whatnot, things worked out very nicely for an all-too-brief period. And at the end of the path came a Best Original Screenplay Oscar.
Boozing issues aside, Mank is depicted in each and every scene as a humanist and a good guy — a man who sides with the weak and unlucky, with the less fortunate and downtrodden. He’s good company.
Oldman is wonderful. I was initially not looking forward to spending over two hours with a pot-bellied drunk, and the fact that he looks like a bloated 62 year old rather than a plump, dessicated 43 year-old didn’t thrill me. But Oldman’s charm and particularly that thin, raspy little voice tossing off one witticism after another…he simply won me over. I just fell for the whirling patter and verbal derring-do.
It would be wonderful if Mank winds up winning the Best Picture Oscar. HE personally approves of this scenario. And yet even the staunchest admirers will have to admit it’s not exactly audience-friendly in the buttered-popcorn sense of that term. Unless, of course, sharp direction, whipsmart writing, superb production design and immaculate performances top to bottom get to you on a primal level. (As they do me.) In which case Mank is about as audience friendly as a classic Hollywood film could possibly be.
First and foremost Mank has been made by and for film monks — smartypants types, devotional cineastes, those with a general sense of X-factor sophistication. That probably leaves out a certain portion of the community who will bestow earnest praise for its technical accomplishments. We all know what that means.
Mank is not just about the writing of the Citizen Kane script, which the film definitely credits Mankiewicz with the lion’s share of the credit. Welles pruned and streamlined, it says, and of course directed the film magnificently.
It’s also about the California governor’s race of 1934, in which socialist writer turned Democrat Upton Sinclair ran against Republican Frank Merriam. It focuses on a certain “fake news” campaign on Merriman’s behalf, paid for by MGM boss Louis B. Mayer and pushed along by production chief Irving Thalberg. Good fellow Mank tries to keep the fake news doc from being made, of course. I appreciated the present-day allusion in this subplot, although I wasn’t exactly riveted by it. It was fine. Not a speedbump.
Again — Mank definitely comes down in favor of Mr. Mankiewicz being the principal author of Kane (the first draft was over 300 pages) with Welles having augmented and embroidered. Shorter version: the brilliant drunk mostly wrote it, Orson mostly pruned and honed and then directed the hell out of the film itself.
I would have preferred a 1.37 aspect ratio (more true to the period) or more specifically 1.37 with old-fashioned color. Kane was in black and white? All the more reason to shot Mank with the same Technicolor hues seen in Nothing Sacred.
I didn’t care for all the digital dust being blown around as two cars drive on asphalt blacktop on their way to Victorville. They’re not driving along the Chisholm Trail with cattle. The road is paved and apparently well-maintained.
Amanda Seyfried creates a layered, sophisticated Marion Davies. Best performance and role of her life. That awful feeling I was getting from Lily James in Ben Wheatley‘s awful Rebecca — that she’s not authentic, that she’s pretending poorly to be a naif in the mid ’30s world, that she clearly doesn’t belong in this realm and is more or less playing dress-up — is something I didn’t get from Seyfried. She seems to really understand Davies, who was unfairly caricatured in Kane. She feels like a decent, compassionate human being. Even Charles Dance‘s William Randolph Hearst seems like a reasonably decent sort.
Mank is all very good and done just so…bingo. I’m looking forward to a second and third viewing. Mank is that kind of film.