Mank (2020) Review

David Fincher’s first movie in six years since the impressive psychological thriller of 2014’s Gone Girl is supposed to be something worth waiting for.

Written by his late father, Jack, the story takes us back to the Old Hollywood circa 1930s era where screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz a.k.a. Mank (Gary Oldman) races against time to complete a script for Orson Welles’ (Tom Burke) soon-to-be-filmed feature debut. That script in question is none other than Citizen Kane. Mank, who had one of his legs broken due to a car accident, happens to be an alcoholic as well. In order to keep Mank as sober as possible while making sure he’s doing his job, caretaker and housekeeper Fräulein Frieda (Monika Gossmann) along with secretary Rita Alexander (Lily Collins) are both assigned to look after him.

From there, the movie jumps back and forth in a non-linear style that pays homage to Citizen Kane, as we learn how Mank first get to know the wealthy publishing mogul William Randolph Hearst (Charles Dance) and Hearst’s younger mistress and actress Marion Davies (Amanda Seyfried). Hearst, of course, would become Mank’s source of inspiration for his script.

Prior to the worldwide streaming release on Netflix beginning December 4 onwards, Mank has already garnered mostly positive responses and some critics even went as far as calling it one of the best movies of 2020. Given the fact that David Fincher is no stranger to making great biopics as seen in Zodiac (2007) and The Social Network (2010), Mank looks set to be another cinematic winner.

Gary Oldman and Amanda Seyfried in Netflix's "Mank" (2020)

From a technical point of view, Mank is a visual triumph. Fincher and his Mindhunter cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt making good use of the RED Monstrochrome camera that successfully captured the look and feel of an Old Hollywood movie. The sumptuous black-and-white cinematography, coupled with the brilliant uses of lighting and shadow while Trish Summerville’s costume design all deserve equal praises. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ jazzy score, in the meantime, complements the movie well enough.

Now, if only the rest of Mank is as great as its top-notch technical aspect, I would easily rank this as one of the year’s best movies in my Top 10 list. For a movie that supposed to be Fincher’s passion project where he’s been trying to get it off the ground for decades (he originally wanted to follow up with this after completed The Game back in 1997), Mank feels strangely cold and detached. It’s more like style over substance. The script may have all the hallmarks of an Oscar-worthy material but it lacks the narrative hook and even dull in most parts. Which is actually a huge surprise since Fincher has previously done a great job handling the two aforementioned biopics that happened to be as dialogue-heavy as Mank does.

The supposedly excellent ensemble fails to leave much of an impression too. Gary Oldman’s scenery-chewing performance as both alcoholic and acid-tongued Herman J. Mankiewicz does have his few moments. But it’s all showy mannerism with the kind of surface-level portrayal that I hardly root for his largely unlikeable character. The rest of the cast is just as forgettable.

It’s a pity that Mank turns out to be a missed opportunity. The kind that I find it hard to believe, given Fincher’s largely impressive track record as a director.

One thought on “Mank (2020) Review

  • Your review is honest. It doesn’t move the viewer in any way except to wonder who green-lighted this turkey?

Leave a Reply