I should have loved this movie. After all, it’s made by David Fincher (his first movie since 2014’s Gone Girl) about one of the most influential movies of all time, Citizen Kane (1941). On top of that, the script was written by Fincher’s late dad Jack Fincher (the movie is also dedicated to him), Gary Oldman is giving one of the best performances of his career, Amanda Seyfried has, dare I say it, stolen the movie for herself and overall, Mank is working like a well oiled machine. So how come I didn’t absolutely love it? How come there was something, that simply didn’t click with me…?
I think there are two answers to this question – the first is “simple”. Mank is too much “inside baseball“, which is something I didn’t expect and the second might have been the fact that except the very last dinner scene, there was no standout for me. So, let’s start with my first point…
I know it seems almost too silly to complain about this film being so obsessed with one topic, as that’s literally what this movie is about, but it went too overboard/microscopic with that. I always like to claim that I am true cinephile (whatever that means) but even for me, who has heard some stories about what was happening “behind the scenes” of what many critics consider “the best movie of all time” this might have gotten too deep. And if I sometimes got lost in politics and the plot, what about the casual viewer? Let’s face it, plenty of people know of Citizen Kane, but how many of your casual movie goers know there was so much happening behind it? And how many of those would need little to no information about it and just be thrown into it all? Because that is what happens in Mank. You are kind of thrown in, without any warnings, into two storylines, where especially in the flashbacks, it can be a bit overwhelming to remember all the names, who is doing what, who is working where, why is this person saying this about this person… you always kind of get this is supposed to be a nod to something that’s happened, or someone who existed, but the movie isn’t interested in giving you more. It’s almost like it expects you to either go in with all the knowledge prior watching it, or banking on you having such a great time with this movie, that you will spend hour or so on Google, making sense of everything you’ve just seen. And again, I love the passion and the general idea behind this, but it’s really easy to get overwhelmed by watching it (and with the current IMDb ranking of 7.0/10, it seems like I am not the only one who thinks that).
The other major issue I had with this movie – it doesn’t really feel to “Fincher-y”. As I mentioned above, there is only one scene you will remember because it stands out, and that is the dinner scene towards the end. The rest kind of blends in together, where you have tiny moments that are great (like the scene where Seyfried’s character is having the heartfelt conversation with Oldman’s character, where they understand each other perfectly, yet they know it might not be for too long) but the movie kind of flows in one way, where yes there are no low’s, but also no discernible highs either.
Mank is definitely a performance driven vehicle, and as much I would love to say how everybody is great in this (and that is because they truly are) I need to single out two performers I really enjoyed – the already mentioned Oldman and Seyfried. With Gary Oldman, he’s been consistently great for his entire life, but in here, he yet again does something that feels familiar, yet totally different. You understand how witty his character is and yet you see how broken he is, especially when his ideals get shattered. But the real star to me was Amanda Seyfried. She (weirdly) reminded me what Brad Pitt did in Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood (2019) where from the start, it feels like “normal” performance, but the more we get into the story, the more you understand how Amanda’s performance is brilliant, because it’s not “shiny” by any means, yet it could have easily been. She shares her scenes mostly with Gary Oldman, but she not only stands her own, but is more than equal acting partner to him, where you understand that there is something about her that only Oldman’s character can see. And she’s subtly suffering, being silent, knowing fully well, she’s better than the movies her character is given to star in. That is why I loved the tiny moment these two share, as I described earlier. Mutual admiration, and yet there is a hint of everything going away, because that’s how this show they call business works, where she doesn’t want him to write what he’s written and even though he admires and respects her (and again, in the entire movie, he might be the only one!) he can’t just let it go, even if that means loosing her as a friend.
Overall, Mank is a great film I feel it might be great for you, IF you go in with your “research” done. As a bare minimum, I would (re)-watch Citizen Kane right before this film, as I believe it would have made it a great “double bill” feature. And then, (or maybe prior watching Mank, as I would imagine that would have helped you big time) go for one the documentaries about Citizen Kane (or Orson Welles), something like The Battle Over Citizen Kane or maybe a TV movie made in 1999 called RKO 281, as I’ve heard that definitely helps giving you more information about what is happening in this movie. I feel like when it’s time for me to re-visit this film, I will definitely watch some of these and only then re-watch Mank and who knows? Maybe I will fall in love with this movie. But as with everything, that’s focused on one subject in almost microscopic fashion, your enjoyment of this movie will directly corelate with the fact how much you know about Citizen Kane, Orson Welles, the studio system in late 30’s/early 40’s of last century… and of course, the man, the myth, the legend, Herman J. Mankiewicz himself.
That’s all for this one! Did you see it? What did you think about it? Let me know!
Until next time,