David Fincher has been trying to make Mank happen since the early 1990s. The script was actually written by Fincher’s late father, Jack Fincher. One of the big battles that kept this film on the back burner for decades was the fact that studios were not on board to see a black and white movie filmed in some very Citizen Kane inspired style. But now, the film is finally here, with Gary Oldman, a sprawling script and killer Kane stylized moments.
Mank tells the story behind the screenwriter of Citizen Kane, Herman Mankawitz. From Mank’s perspective we see the sprawling 1930s Hollywood scene. From the fancy offices of producers, smokey writers rooms, to the out of work extras and grips standing outside the studio gates waiting, hoping for any sort of work. We also see the inner workings of politics running through the studios. Mank reflects on all this as he recovers from a car accident at a ranch in California. While he heals, he fights his alcoholism, argues with Orson Welles over the phone and rushes to finish the screenplay to Citizen Kane. In the end, it becomes the greatest work he’s ever written.
What makes this film feel so unique is how the audio and visual elements have been manipulated to feel like a classic film from the 1930s or 40s. The soundtrack is much different form Fincher’s previous films, using only instruments of the film’s period. And after completion, the soundtrack has been manipulated to have that warm, classic sound. The film was shot on RED’s Helium Monochrome 8K cameras and no color version of the film exists. Throughout the film you will notice small flaws, as if physical film had been damaged. My favorite touch was the reel change circles in the upper right hand corner and even the audio pop of the reel changeover.
Mank is currently nominated for a whopping ten Academy Awards, including Best Picture. Others include best sound, original score, production design, costume design, makeup and hairstyling and cinematography. David Fincher earned his third nomination for best director, his last being ten years ago with The Social Network. Gary Oldman earned his third lead acting nomination in the title role. And Amanda Seyfried earned her very first Oscar nomination for her supporting role as Marion Davies.
While the Oscars continue their love for films about classic films, I do not see Mank winning many prestigious awards come Oscar night. Mank feels like last year’s The Irishman: they’re both helmed by a veteran, celebrated director, mostly about white men and sadly, feel a little too long. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed Mank, especially toward the end, but I’m also a classic film nerd who wrote college papers about Citizen Kane. I totally geeked out at the visual Kane references. Will Mank strike a chord with today’s average movie-goer? Maybe not, but it’s great Oscar bait.
“That, my friend, is the magic of the movies.”