There is no measurable way to describe how much impact and influence the 1941 film Citizen Kane had on an entire generation of filmmakers; It continues to be one of the most celebrated films of all time. The myth of Orson Welles and the making of Citizen Kane endures to this day.
MANK is about screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman) and his intense development of Citizen Kane. The authorship of Citizen Kane has been widely disputed — It has been the subject of documentaries and many articles throughout the years.
MANK depicts Herman Mankiewicz as the sole writer of Kane and not Orson Welles. Mank initially agreed not to be credited for writing Citizen Kane. But eventually, he changed his mind and received a writing credit and shared an Academy Award with Welles for Best Original Screenplay.
This movie is structured similarly to Citizen Kane, told in a non-linear manner, mostly through flashbacks, and shot in Black and White, resembling many of Kane’s artistic styles.
We see Mank bedridden, recovering from a car accident while writing and dictating the story that will become the basis for Citizen Kane. We see Orson Welles (Tom Burke) visiting Mank at the hospital and recruiting him for his upcoming project with RKO pictures. Tom Burke is dead-on in his portrayal of a young Orson Welles.
The story flips back and forth in time, with most of the flashbacks set to the backdrop of the great depression, between 1933-1940. We get to see Mank’s political leanings and all the personal and professional struggles Mank experienced during that particular decade. At one point, we see how Mank socialized and mingled with elite Hollywood circles and how those same Hollywood elites turned away from him.
The casting is remarkable. Charles Dance (William Randolph Hearst) commands the screen on every scene. Amanda Seyfried (Marion Davies) captured the essence of a 1930s Hollywood starlet brilliantly. Arliss Howard (Louis B. Mayer) was fantastic; Howard steals every scene he is in. There is a noteworthy hallway sequence where Mayer explains his rules of Hollywood to Mankiewicz….. outstanding scene.
Even Bill Nye, the Science Guy, makes a cool cameo as the author and political activist Upton Sinclair.
Gary Oldman is superb as usual; He is very convincing, pulling off all the drunk scenes. Mank, the real-life person, was also a gambler and an alcoholic, and Oldman embodied this character’s complexities exceptionally.
The relationship between William Randolph Hearst, Marion Davies, and Herman Mankiewicz is crucial to understanding how Mank ended up framing Citizen Kane’s story. Hearst was one of the most powerful and influential characters during the first half of the 20th century, comparable to someone like a Rupert Murdoch of our time. You get the sense that writing Citizen Kane was a big Fuck You to Hearst.
It seems like this was a passion project for director David Fincher. On a technical level, this movie is excellent. It takes great skills and ingenuity to make a film like this. The glamour and corruption of the golden era of Hollywood are depicted beautifully. The cigarette burns between reels, the muffled dialogue, the sound, and the vintage vibes make for a stylish-looking film. Interestingly enough, Mank was written by Fincher’s late father, Jack Fincher, over 30 years ago, and I read that David Fincher had been trying to get this movie made since at least 1997.
There are direct parallels between the events of this movie and our current political climate. In the 1930s, Upton Sinclair was running for Governor of California. He was calling for social reforms, and some of the wealthiest California capitalists joined up and mounted a propaganda campaign to discredit Sinclair. William Randolph Hearst, Louis B. Mayer, and other elite members of their inner circle used Hollywood’s power to paint Sinclair as a radical socialist who was going to destroy California. They used movie theaters and the radio as a medium to spread disinformation and propaganda. Similar to how social media is used today to seed mistrust and division.
The real-life Herman Mankiewicz was a highly regarded writer. In fact, he was the first theatre critic for the New Yorker and member of the Algonquin Round Table. His contributions to cinema were significant. However, today his name is not well known outside of film buffs and movie historians. Hopefully, this movie will generate new interest in his work.
Mank is a movie for legit Cinephiles and anyone who enjoys the golden-era of Hollywood. It is the portrait of a complicated artist clashing with the establishment. But above all, Citizen Kane’s profound influence on generations of filmmakers is precisely what makes this movie so compelling. You may need to watch it a few times to grasp the whole thing fully.
Four out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿🍿🍿
MANK (2020). Streaming on Netflix.