Directed by David Fincher and written by Jack Fincher, follows screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz’s tumultuous development of Orson Welles’ iconic masterpiece Citizen Kane. Starring: Gary Oldman, Amanda Seyfried, Lily Collins, Tom Pelphrey, Arliss Howard, Tuppence Middleton, Monika Gossmann and Joseph Cross.
This is likely not going to be the sort of film that Fincher fans were expecting, after the 6-year wait since Gone Girl but there’s still plenty to enjoy. One thing that certainly won’t disappoint fans is Fincher’s usual marvellous visual, the blend of his direction and Erik Messerschmidt’s cinematography creates the perfect 40s atmosphere, dense with cigarette smoke and gin. It transports you to the golden age of Hollywood and draws you in in such a way that even if the story isn’t what you expected, you can’t help but be charmed by it. It artfully takes away the colour and gives you a beautifully textured monochromatic visual experience. Part of that charm is the very smooth style that Fincher’s direction takes, it moves fluidly back and forth through its timeline, it never feels like separate pieces, simply one flowing story. There’s also a quality to the editing that almost feels as if you’re following the pattern of Mankiewicz’s drunken attention span, which is an impressive element given that it’s so smooth and never jarring.
One of the other unexpected elements is that Amanda Seyfried gives a standout performance as Marion Davies, she brings a charisma and an infectious energy that the rest of the film is missing without her. Seyfried creates a wonderful banter and flirtatious, witty edge to the mutual respect between Marion and Mankiewicz, their shared scenes are undoubtedly highlights of the film. Gary Oldman gives a great performance, he captures that combination of overly confident, drunkard and creative genius to tick all the boxes for this character and yet, it doesn’t feel like one you want to shout about. It fits too squarely into what we already know he’s capable of and he’s playing a little too inside the box to really create a sincerely memorable performance. There’s also a great mix of talent forming the rest of the ensemble but none of them really make their mark, Lily Collins does get close but her characters feels fairly formulated and Tuppence Middleton does well as Mank’s wife Sara but as is appropriate for her character, she’s often left behind.
Another big factor in the creation of that pitch perfect old Hollywood atmosphere is the quality of the writing, it has the classic patter of the 40s, it’s so alluring to listen to. It’s witty, smart, funny and a little sly, the dialogue is superb but there’s something missing, it lacks a stronger, more intense energy that the story calls out for, it briefly dips its toes into that arena as it nears the end but for a 130-minute run time it could have incorporated it much sooner. There’s a similar issue with the score (by Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross), it’s brilliant work but it’s being used in much too subtle of a fashion, you want it to be booming and encompassing but it sits politely in the background which is disappointing. However, the costume work (by Trish Summerville) is brilliant, it’s luxurious and brings through that opulent wealth of Hollywood in dazzling style, even without colour.
Mank is a rich and sumptuous portrayal of the golden age of Hollywood, it may not be the Fincher film you expected but it has his typical superb quality, it’s enchanting, textured and artful. It’s fast-talking, witty and charming but there’s something missing to push it to perfection, it doesn’t have more of an intensity or vibrant energy to it, it feels much more relaxed for the most part. Oldman provides his usual dependably fantastic performance but it’s Amanda Seyfried that really shines, she fits the 40s style magnificently and has an undeniable charisma that’s utterly bewitching and you’ll wish for more.