Released: 4th December
Seen: 28th December
When it comes to movies and their quality, there are no real definitive answers. A film that I love is one that you may hate and vice versa… there is, of course, an exception to this statement. Namely, if you answer “What is the greatest movie of all time” with any movie other than “Citizen Kane”, you are factually inaccurate in the eyes of everyone who would bother to ask that question and will probably be stoned in the streets.
It’s a film that’s influenced almost every film that followed it, even if the filmmakers didn’t see Citizen Kane because the things that Orson Welles did had never been done before and everyone wanted to copy. Indeed, the film is a testament to Orson Welles’ talent since he was the director, producer, actor and writer of a film that changed cinema… OK, he was ONE of the two writers, but for the longest time people almost forgot that there was a second writer, so Netflix is here to change that.
Mank is the story of that second writer, Herman J. Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman) and his experiences writing the bulk of the script that would become Citizen Kane. Intercut with flashbacks showing how Mankiewicz navigated the strange politics of 1930s Hollywood, his relationships with figures like William Randolph Hearst and Irving Thalberg and the severity of his alcoholism. The film paints a full picture of this largely forgotten figure of cinematic history in a visually stunning way. How a man who produced three Marx Brothers films and worked on The Wizard of Oz could be forgotten is beyond me but… well, when you think of Citizen Kane, can we admit that most of us stop after we get to Welles? .
Saying “Oh this David Fincher movie looks good” normally feels like saying “Oh this Oxygen does a really good job of keeping me breathing” but the decision to borrow the visuals from Citizen Kane to tell the story of Mank is the touch of genius that elevates this film. Every shot feels lifted right out of a 1930s film with perfect lighting and composition, the kind that you can tell probably took Fincher a hundred takes just to get the exact right burst of light in the background of a shot. Seriously, this is on that list of films where every frame could be printed into a poster and hung on the wall like a work of art.
It also shouldn’t be a shock that Mank is one of the best written films of the year, you’d hope it would be since it’s about one of the greatest script writers of all time. Every line of dialogue just flows effortlessly with just the right amount of wit to keep the film engaging. Admittedly there are moments when the need to make each line a witty retort feels a little forced, not everything a writer says out loud is a perfect witticism that is ready to be put in a book of hilarious quotes, but then again that forced perfection also ties in well with the 1930s Hollywood aesthetic where everything was forced to be as close to perfect as possible.
A cynic might look at this film as pure awards bait since it features so many things that the Academy loves, namely being a black & white film about old Hollywood that’s at least trying to be a biopic (though take a lot of this with a grain of salt). However, even if this is just playing for awards it’s also just a genuinely well made film with some great performances, led by Oldman who is delivering one of the best performances of his career (which is saying a lot considering the other performances he’s given).
You can certainly see this being the kind of film that the Academy will love and some audiences might tune out of because it is definitely a lot to take in, with it’s time jumps and large amount of time spent behind the scenes of old Hollywood. Indeed, it’s the kind of film you have to be in the right frame of mind to really get into if the fact that I needed multiple viewings to be able to write this is any indication.
However, once you are in the right frame of mind for this movie, Mank is incredibly enjoyable and expertly made with some of the best cinematography of the year and performances you will love. It’s one of those films that demands all your attention and hopes you know at least a little bit about 1930s cinema to properly enjoy it, and it definitely deserves to make such an ask considering how good it is.