Nominated for an Oscar as Best Movie, “Mank,” directed by David Fincher and shot in black and white, takes us to Hollywood in the 1930s and early 1940s. The film shows us Hollywood as seen by the critical and sometimes cynical perception of screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz (“Mank”). Although the focal point of its plot is on the behind-the-scene events surrounding the filming of “Citizen Kane,” it goes beyond that, showing us all the world of intrigues, betrayals, and political maneuvres going on at the time.
Mank (Gary Oldman) is seen at the beginning of the film, secluded in a remote town with a crucial assignment. He must write a script for Orson Welles (Tom Burke), who is working on what would become his masterpiece—”Citizen Kane.” The writer has been an alcoholic for some time now, and that had put his career in peril, together with some exchanges he has had. Confrontations during which he managed to offend very influential people in town, as we will see through several flashbacks.
Perhaps one of the best moments that describe Hollywood’s dark side is that where Louis Meyer (Arliss Howard) calls a meeting with all of MGM’s stars and, in an afflicted tone, announces to them that given the economic crisis, they will have to take a fifty-per cent pay cut. Moments before, while confiding with some of the other executives and with Mank present, Meyer had dismissively referred to his screen artists: “MGM has only one star, that’s Leo, the lion” (in reference to the studio’s iconic symbol).
Other dark moments are revealed during the 1934 California governor campaign, including the sad involvement of Irving Thalberg (Ferdinand Kingsley) in it. Mank also uses his friendship with Marion Davies (Amanda Seyfried), the lover of newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst (Charles Dance), to try to get some information. As we know, Hearst is the real-life character on which “Citizen Kane” is based. That would put the writer on a definitive collision course not only with that powerful man but with all other powerful individuals in the film industry at the time.
Mank, whose erratic working style is the main obstacle for completing the script commissioned by a demanding Welles, faces new pressures and many warnings pointing at the danger of writing a screenplay about Hearst. Only the loyal co-operation of his assistant and typist, Rita Alexander (Lily Collins), will be of any help in those hard times when he also has to deal with Welles insistence in finishing the script soon.
With great acting by Gary Oldman—also nominated for an Oscar—and exquisite photography that re-creates the atmosphere of those years, and, especially, the ambience and the tone of defiance of “Citizen Kane,” I consider “Mank” a remarkable movie. I strongly recommend it to anyone interested in cinema’s history, the intrigues within the world of film and politics, and, above all, those who love and appreciate a good movie.
Onscreen in selected theatres and available on Netflix. Duration: 131 min