Amanda Seyfried and Gary Oldman in Mank (Photo: Netflix)
★★½ (out of four)
DIRECTED BY David Fincher
STARS Gary Oldman, Amanda Seyfried
Despite its standing in most quarters as the greatest movie ever made, Orson Welles’ 1941 masterpiece Citizen Kane ended up winning only one Academy Award: Best Original Screenplay, presented to Welles and co-writer Herman J. Mankiewicz. The latter is the subject of Mank, David Fincher’s Hollywood-expose effort that, like 2005’s Capote, ends up less a comprehensive biopic and more a look at a few key incidents in the man’s life.
The bulk of the movie centers on the period when Mank (Gary Oldman) was hired by Welles (Tom Burke) to write the screenplay for his breakout feature. The boozy Mank ends up concocting a story in which the leading players bear no small measure of resemblance to newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst (Charles Dance) and his mistress, actress Marion Davies (an excellent Amanda Seyfried). As others worry about the fallout from potentially insulting Hearst, Mank lets his mind drift to past events that helped lead him to this point.
With director David Fincher at the helm (the screenplay was by his father Jack Fincher, who had been interested in making the movie but passed away in 2003), Mank has the best production values money can buy: Erik Messerschmidt’s black-and-white cinematography, the score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, and the opulent set designs are all certain to have their own dalliances with Oscar. But while it’s fun to revisit this period in film history, and while Oldman gets off some choice zingers, much of the screenplay is sorely lacking. Historical details are sloppy (a scene set in 1930 finds characters discussing 1931’s Frankenstein and 1941’s The Wolf Man), too much screen time is given to forced (and fictional) parallels between Mank’s life and what ended up in Kane, and, despite Oldman’s accomplished performance, even the central character remains distant.
For a far better biopic about a maverick writer fighting Hollywood on his own terms, check out 2015’s magnificent Trumbo instead.