Thursday, December 3, 2020

Movie with Abe: Mank

Directed by David Fincher
Released December 4, 2020 (Netflix)

There exists a genre of films that have to do with the making of other films, chronicling the way in which one project’s creation became its own story. It may be that the original film, upon its release, was deemed a tremendous failure or would grow to become a cult classic, or that its reception was so positive that it would be hard to imagine how complicated and tumultuous its production process was. Naturally, there will be similarities in the inspirations for a given work and the finished product, and taking note of what has been altered, added, or left out completely adds depth to the viewing experience.

After being seriously injured in a car accident, Herman J. “Mank” Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman) begins to work on the screenplay for “Citizen Kane,” a project that he has agreed to forgo a writing credit on in service to the eccentric Orson Welles (Tom Burke). With the loyal assistance of his secretary, Rita (Lily Collins), Mank pens a grand story, remembering the many influences he has had from big names in the film industry, including newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst (Charles Dance), studio head Louis B. Mayer (Arliss Howard), his brother, director Joseph L. Mankiewicz (Tom Pelphrey), and actress Marion Davies (Amanda Seyfried).

This film fully feels like a product of the time in which is set, utilizing black-and-white cinematography and designing every visual and aural aspect to feel like a journey back to the 1930s and 1940s. The characters speak in a deliberate manner, and the costumes, sets, and music give specific life to the story. What could play as the cinematic equivalent of name-dropping famous early film production figures is instead a glorious tribute to the art, one that notes their presence and prominence, using them to propel the narrative and ground Mank’s place in all of it. It’s a marvelously immersive journey that should delight knowledgeable cinephiles and equally astound those unfamiliar with the history of Hollywood.

Oldman is an actor who has a tendency to disappear into his characters, as he did in his Oscar-winning turn in “Darkest Hour.” While he’s easily recognizable here, this is an attitude and a fervor that feels entirely unique and mesmerizing. Seyfried delivers a marvelous and magnetic performance as his most vibrant influence, and every small role seems cast with such precision and perfection, with Toby Leonard Moore, Joseph Cross, and Jamie McShane, among others, appearing in few scenes but making a strong mark in a short time. Every part of this film, which runs 132 minutes, feels deliberate and purposeful, and the resulting experience is thundering and captivating.


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