- Mank is a thoroughly impressive work—meticulously crafted- even if it may not leave you gobsmacked- and that is always a little disappointing when you have an auteur the size of Fincher with a new film (his first in six years) and it doesn’t immediately strike you as one of his best four-five films (not to say it definitively isn’t)
- Oldman is outstanding (it may be his best work- I would need another viewing of this The Darkest Hour, and Sid and Nancy to make sure) and though he’s not really a screenwriter (it is credited solely to his father who passed away in 2003) I’m once again blown away by how magnificently verbal and literate a Fincher film is. I’d read this screenplay. It can’t be a coincidence that The Social Network, Fight Club, Zodiac (I think each belongs as one of the best written films of their respective decade) all came from Fincher. This is better written than Sorkin’s 2020 entry The Trial of the Chicago 7 for example.
- The narrative is dense “one will need a road map” is from the film talking about Mank writing Kane (brilliantly comparing the structure not to a straight line but not a cinnamon roll), characters from 1930’s and 1940’s Hollywood comes at you fast and furious and yet it is largely a one-man show as well. Oldman appears in nearly every frame and this is an immaculate character study. The flashback structure and the witty dialogue from the era (or from like the Coen brothers)—it is a lot to take in—overflowing, thick, full of double-entendres
Fincher has pivoted here — opting for the crisp monochrome for the first time in his storied career
- The film is about a screenwriter getting credit for his work- so I don’t want to overlook the screenplay here.
- The pastiche isn’t just in the writing- Fincher has the look of the era down. He has done away with his trademark (which I lament as much as I admire his achievement here) look of course opting to shoot this in black and white. It recalls Woody’s Stardust Memories (with Gordon Willis as DP) or the Coen Brothers The Man Who Wasn’t There (with Deakins). Other period details weren’t as important to Fincher, Mank is not shot on film, but digitally, and instead of the 1.37: 1 boxier aspect ratio (utilized in the 1930’s and 40’s)- this is closer to cinemascope- Fincher shoots Mank in 2.20 : 1
- 36 minutes there is a standout frame—the lighting- the spotlight on the stage – Arliss Howard as Louis B. Mayer
- Not unlike Gone Girl or The Social Network– the verbal sparring is one of the film’s highlights- highly readable- dialog like a tennis match from Upton Sinclair to Hitler, politics and art—“do you always say whatever you think?” and “I’ve never not been fired”
- More detail in the design of the look and feel- cigarette burns in the corner simulating reel changes, the studied election night montage (straight from the look of the studio era of the time) and the Reznor and Ross score
- Other highlights include the 1934 election night lighting—behind Oldman’s head at 85 minutes, the low-angle shot of the Jamie McShane actor as Shelly Metcalf at 90 minutes and yet another is the two brothers from behind (Joseph and Herman) looking out at the desert in the chairs in perfect symmetry at 93 minutes. This is reminiscent of as similar shot in chairs in 2019’s Pain and Glory from Almodovar
- A jaw-dropper at the 100 minute mark—the picnic with Marion Davies (Amanda Seyfried)—a painting with the black car front right, Fincher follows it up with another strong frame—again, unfair to compare any film to a Dreyer masterpiece but if Fincher holds this we have Gertrud– but he doesn’t hold
- Light pouring in at Thalberg (Ferdinand Kingsley)’s funeral
Light pouring in at Thalberg (Ferdinand Kingsley)’s funeral– easily one of the four to five greatest standout shots in the film
- If this is Oldman’s shining moment, the drunk (yet genius) Quixote vomit speech may be the specific scene career summit
- Fincher follows that with a strong hallway frame when Oldman is one on one with the Hearst (Charles Dance in some keen casting)
- Highly Recommend/Must-See border for now
Good review, i was wondering when you would see it but i firmly believe that it is nothing less than an MS.
Maybe i’ll tackle a little more of the movie later if i have time.
As for Mank, were you disappointed or not?
Also interesting, what did you think of the debunking of the author’s theory?
I agree with the MS, but I feel that I will need a second viewing to be confident of that. It’s such a dense screenplay, I’m really looking forward to unpacking it further.
One complaint I have heard is Fincher’s use of digital photography not capturing the same aesthetic of film, which he seems to be going for. I’m not sure how I feel about this, but it doesn’t bother me too much. What do you think?
@Declan- good stuff here- I think it is worth pointing out the digital photography and the different aspect ratio. Clearly though most of the period detail was important– these aspects were not- and the boxy aspect ratio has been en vogue lately from The Lighthouse to First Reformed and others
Thing 1: One thing I thought was quite interesting and ironic (likely intentionally so) was the use of shallow focus in the film. The expansive depth of field in Citizen Kane is of course one of its most notorious traits. Much of Mank is in deep focus, yes, but there are some moments where Fincher brilliantly takes it shallow, especially when Welles is onscreen, which is why I surmise it was intentional. I remember specifically a shot of Welles on the phone where only his shoes are in sharp focus.
Thing 2: I suppose most filmmakers or screenwriters would try to focus overwhelmingly on Welles in a film about the writing of the acclaimed film in history, but I think it was a successful choice by son Fincher and father Fincher to leave him as a mysterious side attraction with less screen time than many other characters. It reminds me slightly of Hannibal Lecter or perhaps of Harry Lime, although I think you can easily hypothesize why I thought of the latter character.
Thing 3: I’m wondering about some of the side performances here. Although Mank includes a large cast, only Oldman shines through (and he sure as Rosebud did shine through – it is the best performance of 2020 but I’m not sure it wouldn’t have been the best of the four years preceding this one, although I have not seen Phantom Thread). Amanda Seyfried seemed generally adequate as Marion Davies, but there was one aspect that bothered me. In some scenes, she portrayed the star with a strong New York accent, but then seemed to drop it entirely in other moments. Tom Burke is a nice choice for Welles; he looks the part although I suppose he seems somewhat too old. I think the scene where he throws the alcohol at the wall and Mankiewicz really meets him, in person and in camera focus, was more than sufficient but not extraodinary.
@Graham- haha funny you mention that but I was keeping an eye out for the deep focus as well. I haven’t read Fincher talk about it anywhere but my guess is he would feel a little disingenuous given the narrative of the film (and Mank as his hero) aping Welles trademark visual style…. that’s just my guess though
What’s your thoughts on Chadwick Boseman being the favourite to win the best actor Oscar?I would love to see Gary Oldman winning it this year for Mank. But the chance of that happening is pretty low.
@Anderson- I haven’t been following all the awards chatter and prediction stuff as closely as I normally do. But Oldman gives the better 2020 performance
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