Reviews of David Fincher‘s Mank broke today so here’s a rehash of two recent HE Mank posts, compressed and crammed together:
Mank is quite the smarthouse thing — gently or obliquely emotional but mostly a Hollywood lore head-trip movie, And it’s aimed almost solely at seasoned, well-educated film sophistos. Which is one reason why guys like San Francisco Chronicle critic Bob Strauss are doing cartwheels.
Brilliant and specific and steeped in a glorious monochrome vibe, Mank is mostly about the ways of genius mixed with the rigorous discipline of writing, the slow ways of alcohol poisoning and the complexities of studio politics.
As such it’s 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.)
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 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 also be wonderful if Mank winds up winning the Best Picture Oscar. HE personally approves of this scenario. If sharp direction, whipsmart writing, superb production design and immaculate performances top to bottom get to you on a primal level (as they do me) then 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.
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.