Each new film from David Fincher is an event. In Seven, the American director offered a blueprint for the modern serial-killer movie; The Social Network was an early look at the morally grubby origins of Facebook; Fight Club is perhaps the defining film about toxic masculinity. But six years on from his last movie, Gone Girl, and the movie landscape is notably changed. Can Mank, a sumptuous tale of classic Hollywood, continue its creator’s remarkable run?
Set in 1940, the story follows alcoholic screenwriter Herman J. ‘Mank’ Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman), who arrives at the isolated Victorville Ranch, California, with injuries sustained from a car crash. For 60 days Mank convalesces there, writing a script for theatre and radio hotshot Orson Welles’ first feature film, Citizen Kane (you might have heard of it). Under the direction of Welles’ business partner John Houseman (Chernobyl‘s Sam Troughton) and cared for by Nurse Frieda (little-known Monika Grossmann), Mank gets to work dictating an epic script to his assistant Rita Alexander (Lily Collins).
As Mank thrashes out Kane, his gripping story about the rise and fall of a powerful press baron, flashbacks from meetings and parties in the 1930s detail his relationship with real-life publisher William Randolph Hearst (Charles Dance), Hearst’s lively actor-mistress Marion Davies (Amanda Seyfried) and film-studio bigwigs including the fearsome Louis B. Meyer (Moneyball‘s Arliss Howard), one of the founders of MGM Studios.
Fincher’s late father Joe wrote the script in the 1990s but, unsurprisingly, they couldn’t get funding for a black-and-white movie involving men in suits talking. Having found success for Netflix as the executive producer behind early hits like House of Cards and Mindhunter, the streamer finally gave Mank the green light. After watching, we can confirm it was the right decision.
Mank looks and sounds sensational. Shot through a smoky filter, this is a journey into booze-sodden Tinseltown glamour. The score, by Nine Inch Nails‘ Trent Reznor and his soundtrack partner Atticus Ross, is an homage to classic film noirs like Chinatown – desolate, desperate tales of men and women gone wrong.
Oldman gives his all in the title role: lurching, ranting and cracking wise just like you might imagine the real Mank did. He’s hammy, sure, but it’s the best he’s been since 2011’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (Darkest Hour won him the Oscar, but it wasn’t vintage Oldman). Of the support cast, Seyfried stands out. The real-life Mank won an Academy Award for his Kane script but it will probably be her who wins one for this film.
Certain plot intricacies about Hearst’s political leanings and attempts to swing elections may be dull for some, but they help explain why Mank was moved to base Kane around him. Fincher’s latest is a sophisticated drama that’s worth taking the time to get your head around. It’s about power and regret, alcoholism and wasted talent, movies and love. It’s also one of the best films of 2020.
- Director: David Fincher
- Starring: Gary Oldman, Amanda Seyfried, Lily Collins
- Release date: December 4 (Netflix)