The retelling of the writing of “Citizen Kane” is an old-fashioned extravaganza.
“Mank,” director David Fincher’s first movie since “Gone Girl,” is a feast for the eyes. Not only is it filmed in black and white, but it also captures the scope and tone of a 1930s-40s pictures. You can easily tell by how the way the opening credits roll, how the poster is designed, and how today’s actors are acting like they are stars from the Golden Age of Hollywood.
It’s a complicated movie about the complicated creation of Orson Welles’ masterpiece “Citizen Kane,” a film I was proud to see when I took Film Appreciation during my years at Brookdale Community College.” But it’s not aimed at the filmmaker; it’s aimed at the writer of that film, Herman Mackiewicz, or Mank for short. It jumps back and forth from the 40s to the 30s and then back around again, as we see how the battle between him and Welles began. This battle is about Mank sharing the screenplay credit for “Citizen Kane.” Due to his excessive drinking, this was the last time they collaborated.
Gary Oldman stars as Mank, who breaks his leg in a car accident, and lies in bed with his new secretary Rita Alexander (Lily Collins) taking notes of his screenplay. He delivers a unique and flexible performance that eases us into his world. We jump back to the 30s when MGM studios was dealing with money problems, as it was during the Great Depression, and the studio needed a way to bring people back to the movies again. And he also deals with his connections with his long-suffering wife whom he calls Poor Sara (Tuppence Middleton), his brother Joseph (Tim Pelphrey), the actress Marion Davies (Amanda Seyfried), Orson Welles (Tom Burke), the head of MGM Louis B. Mayer (Arliss Howard), the film producer Irving Thalberg (Ferdinand Kingsley), and the publisher William Randolph Hearst (Charles Dance).
I didn’t understand everything going on in the narrative, but I was able to pick up on the situations and drama. We acknowledge Mank’s drinking problem, as well as his intentions to share screen credit. We also see Marion moving up in the entertainment world. And we also see Rita believing that her solider husband is still alive, after being presumed dead. The scenes that represent those moments are so filmed stylishly and original, that you feel like you’re actually watching an old movie. Kudos to David Fincher for adapting his late father Jack’s screenplay with such grace and invigoration, and to Erik Messerschmidt for providing the look and feel of the movie.
I already shared my praise for Oldman for knocking it out of the park and this is, hands down, his best performance since “Darkest Hour.” But I must also single out Seyfried and Collins. Their respective performances are so radiant and old-fashioned, that you’re utterly amazed at how they act like they’re resonating with the actresses of the Golden Age of Hollywood. Burke has his moments as Orson, especially when he argues with Mank about the screenplay, while Howard ignites as L.B. Mayer, and Middleton radiates as Mank’s wife.
“Mank” is an electrifying motion picture, not just for its visual style, but also for its faithfulness to the classic films, and its love for them. When we see current movies of its kind like “Ed Wood” or “The Artist,” they make us appreciate the past, because if it wasn’t for black and white movies or silent movies, we wouldn’t even have movies or TV to begin with. Seeing this film is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Don’t miss it.
Now Playing in Select Theaters
Coming to Netflix December 4