By Simon Basketter
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Mank—an impressive caricature of Hollywood’s geniuses

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Issue 2735
Gary Oldman as screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz
Gary Oldman as screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz

Our story opens—shot in silvery black-and-white and overlaid with the typewriter clacks and slow dissolves of scene cues.

Mank has been sent to dry out on a remote ranch to write the first draft of the film Citizen Kane.

David Fincher’s new film is based on the life of screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman).

What follows is a leisurely ramble through the drink-addled banks of his memory.

Here he is disparaging the Wizard of Oz script.

There he is meeting Orson Welles for the first time, or insulting studio executives with casual disdain for authority and deadlines.

His wit lets him stumble through, particularly as a court jester to William Randolph Hearst (Charles Dance), the reactionary newspaper tycoon.

He is too clever for his own good, and too self-aware not to know it.

The importance of politics for the art of Orson Welles
The importance of politics for the art of Orson Welles
  Read More

Mank is about Mankiewicz in much the same way Citizen Kane is about William Randolph Hearst.

It is a magnification, a caricature.

It sometimes captures some of the truth of the corruption of the Hollywood system, and some of it is fiction.

A lot of Netflix cash has been spent on digital work to make the movie look old and analogue—to make the small screen look like the old big one.

It’s impressive but a little hollow.

The ideal viewing condition seems intended so people who have seen Citizen Kane can sit next to someone who hasn’t and can elbow them knowingly and say, “See him? See that? And that?”

But there is much to enjoy.

Mank’s drunken skewering of the media’s role in socialist Upton Sinclair’s election defeat while ostensibly talking about Don Quixote is very powerful in a way that shows it is not actually very powerful at all.

The acting is great in a “Is it Oscar season yet?” sort of way.

Mank is about the destructiveness of trying to survive while avoiding doing the wrong thing.

It’s self-pitying myth-making and definitely worth watching.

Mank, directed by David Fincher is on Netflix now


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