Mank embodies brilliance from beginning to end. There is never a false note from the score, production design, cinematography, screenplay, and performances. Director David Fincher’s latest work is arguably the best of his career, and the film stands poised to be a major player as awards season approaches at warp speed. In a year where the cinematic universe has been flipped on its head, could a film about the screenwriter of Citizen Kane be the answer to Netflix’s Best Picture dreams? It’s too early to say, but if there’s ever a year where the streaming giant was poised to score big at the Academy Awards, this would be it (and that’s before we even discuss Hillbilly Elegy, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, or any of the high-quality titles Netflix has acquired).
Mank tells the story of Herman J. Mankiewicz’s feverish dash to finish the screenplay of Citizen Kane and, in doing so, shines a bright light on the misogynistic dark underbelly of Hollywood during the 1930s. Politics, backroom deals, and ideologies dominated the entertainment landscape. Some might argue that not much has changed since then, which is fair. His journey is punctuated by encounters with some of Hollywood’s elite (William Randolph Hurst, Marion Davies, Louis B. Mayer, and of course, Orson Wells), long nights of boozing, and an unexpected accident which leaves him bedridden due to a broken leg. This is where we come across Rita Alexander, who is brought in from the studio to help type up Mank’s musings, so the script is done quickly. They make an unlikely pair, but a friendship is quickly formed.
Gary Oldman, Amanda Seyfried, and Charles Dance are equally flawless in the film. Seyfriend’s portal of Davies is without question the best of her career. Dance is such a commanding presence as Hurst and the perfect nemesis for the film. Oldman’s performance in Mank injects such soul and just enough bite to a film that spares no one. The former Oscar winner has likely set himself up as the front runner for acting’s most coveted prize. Dance and Seyfried are certainly worthy of a nomination, and anything less would be a travesty.
The film itself is just gorgeous. Erik Messerschmidt’s cinematography manages to take the limited color palette of a black-white film and bring out such beauty in the simplicity of their surroundings. Something as simple as a picnic on the side of the road with Messerschmidt’s talent comes across as a moment ripped from the most pleasant dream. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross manage to strike the perfect notes in a score that amounts to the golden thread which holds this piece in place.
My biggest concern about Mank is it might be only for the biggest cinephiles and not speak to a broader audience in the same way The Trial of the Chicago 7 might. If there’s justice, each will get the praise it deserves, but we all know that’s not how any of this works.