David Fincher’s new film, Mank, is a behind-the-scene drama about the sacred writing of Citizen Kane. Lauded as one of the finest movies ever made, which is nothing but the truth, the 1941 epic is also known for the series of disputes that follow—from the constant hassle and massive boycott by media mogul, William Randolph Hearst, after whom the movie is partially modeled; the long-lasting financial trouble for RKO Pictures, to the dispute over the writing credit split between director/star/producer, Orson Welles, and veteran screenwriter, Herman Mankiewicz. The film would go on receiving 9 Oscar nominations and only winning one for the rightful Best Writing (Original Screenplay)—to which Welles and Mankiewicz differ in opinions, originating the dispute that will last for decades.
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Fincher, working on his father, Jack Fincher’s script, clearly takes his stance in the writing dispute and, as the title suggests, his story roots on Mank—the screenwriter’s nickname—through and through. By the way Fincher presents the narrative, it’s become crystal clear that Mank might have been a manifestation of Fincher’s disbelief over auteur theory, which has long been associated with Welles (over his work in Kane) and, undoubtedly, Fincher himself. Foreshadowing dialogues become self-reflective moments in this film as they often voices out how the director reflects on his father’s vision of Kane‘s background and style. “The narrative is one big circle…” Mankiewicz claims on screen and adds that it is “…not a straight line pointing to the nearest exit.” That’s Kane‘s unprecedented narrative style, which went on to be a revolutionary one; the one that Fincher senior mirrors to tell the story behind it using the same style.
“You cannot capture a man’s entire life in two hours. All you can hope is to leave the impression,” Mank adds to his first commentary about the narrative style. He trusts Welles as the director to make the visual impression, but he is confident that his writing has made it easier for the director to do so. Fincher, on a similar note, trusts what his father’s been writing (he takes no screenwriting credit for it) and makes Mank’s quote a credo to craft a moving story about the screenwriter. Mank will move back and forth to provide contexts on how Mankiewicz wrote Kane based on his actual encounters with influential figures that cut between films and politics in the decades of 30s and 40s. Fincher’s script deconstructs the politics in Hollywood, be it for the sake of the industry or the actual politics. Coupled with some backstories about Great Depression impact on filmmaking, the 2-hour and a few minute of Mank is a compact and self-fulfilling history lesson and a love letter to the zeitgeist of an era—marked with distrusts and a literal sense of Game of Thrones (there must be a reason why Charles Dance’s character always pays his debt, in this case to mitigate broken reputation). The thing is, this film gives a little to no chance for casual viewers to plunge onto it and expect to return with something. It’s almost like Fincher trusts the audiences to equip themselves with any necessary knowledge about the ba
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Gary Oldman astonishingly transforms into Mank, a bitter, visionary, no-hold-barred playwright turned screenwriter (among his famous, uncredited work is The Wizard of Oz) tasked by Welles himself (Tom Burke) to write for his RKO produced movie. With only 90 days for him, Mank goes into seclusion in a ranch in Mojave Desert, recovering from a recent car accident and drinking his night out while spitting out his thought that will eventually be written by his secretary, Rita Alexander (Lily Collins). His story spirals back and forth in time, just “like a cinnamon roll” as he says, detailing the writing process and the moments that inspire the story. From his encounter with actress, Marion Davies (Amanda Seyfried) to his inauguration into Hearst’s (Dance) inner circle, from his sympathy to fellow director whose life is muddled with political trickery to his view of MGM’s boss’s political allegiance, everything returns to what eventually becomes the finest American production as Citizen Kane is. Mank is a proud, brave man from The Finchers’ point of view, and Mank isn’t going to go anywhere far from there.
Fincher deconstructs the controversy, the narrative style, and the cinematic style (that includes Kirk Baxter’s solid editing to find balance between Fincher’s clear-cut style and Kane‘s precedent ones; as well as Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ period-bound scoring) to bring an authentic look to the production drama of Citizen Kane. At the same time, he retains his late father’s thorough observations of Hollywood’s politics and economics of such eras only to syncretize them into the subtle yet furious and candid story about the ultimate anti-auteurism fight by Herman Mankiewicz. A labor’s love, Mank might seem to be; but, at the same time, it’s a medium to deliver a message from one of the finest working director about filmmaking integrity.