REVIEW: The movie magic in ‘Mank’ is good, not great

The foundation for what many consider to be one of the greatest films ever made is showcased in David Fincher’s latest project.

The Netflix film, titled “Mank,” tells the story of screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman). The movie picks up with Mankiewicz, who’s recovering from a leg injury suffered during a car accident, being hired to help write the movie “Citizen Kane” by Orson Welles (Tom Burke).

Mankiewicz, with the help of his secretary Rita (Lily Collins), manages to pen the script, despite a few hiccups along the way. As the movie shows him doing so, several flashbacks to Mankiewicz in the 30s are shown, displaying where the writer picked up his inspiration. Namely, the movie features several sequences where Mankiewicz interacted with William Randolph Hearst.

“Mank” is a film where its many parts are better than the whole. There are several great moments throughout “Mank” that are compelling to watch and see unfold. One standout scene is a moment where a drunken outburst by Mankiewicz at a dinner party turns into a cynical speech.

However, the way all of these scenes are strung together feels sadly, unsatisfactory. Audiences are constantly led back and forth from the 30s to the early 40s, yet the picture seems to be missing a sort of linchpin between the two.

One who’s watched “Citizen Kane” of course knows that the film was inspired by Hearst. However, despite the flashbacks, the movie never properly portrays Mankiewicz’s passion for turning his memories of the media giant into the main character of Welles’ film.

Courtesy Netflix.

This is partly because the movie isn’t coherent enough. As previously stated, the movie does in fact have good sequences littered throughout, but they’re never brought together in a meaningful way, and as a result, it doesn’t feel like the picture is really building toward something, making for a challenging watch.

Despite story stumbles, though, “Mank” remains an above average period piece, partly thanks to the more than capable cast. Gary Oldman shines as the Hollywood screenwriter who’s fed up with Tinseltown, for example.

There’s a nifty balance struck by Oldman, who gives a mostly straightforward, honest biographical performance, but at times incorporates a flair of the theatrics often seen by characters during that era of film.

Amanda Seyfried is also sensational as the actress Marion Davies. Seyfried is so thoroughly convincing here, disappearing into the role completely to bring forth a perfect representation of what an actress of that era would be like. Her work is fantastic.

Credit certainly has to go to Fincher and his crew, too, because of how well crafted the movie is. Fincher honors the era with a black and white movie that looks like it’s from that era, but with a crispness to the picture for a modern feel. The attention to detail is wonderful, and as a period piece, it succeeds.

One wishes all the pieces to “Mank” had been put together in a better way for a more quality experience. The performances are strong, the movie looks good and there are solid moments that explore how politics impacts art, but how it’s compiled causes it to lose luster. 3 out of 5.

Author: Matthew Liedke

Journalist and film critic in Minnesota. Graduate of Rainy River College and Minnesota State University in Moorhead. Outside of movies I also enjoy sports, craft beers and the occasional video game.

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