The Internet Theater Magazine of Reviews, Features, Annotated Listings
A CurtainUp Streaming Feature
By Elyse Sommer
For a quick cut to the chase: Both Citizen Kane and Mank are compelling films, smartly scripted and presented with great originality. However, nether quite lives up to my idea of a masterpiece. Citizen Kane does earn its masterpiece points, but mostly because of its groundbreaking technlogical style. Fincher's Mank earns his with the way he weaves Citizen Kane's technology and style into his film Consequently, If you want to fully appreciate Mank, you need to be familiar with the 80-year-old film to better appreciate and enjoy Mr. Fincher's ingenious parallels. I therefore suggest, that you hold off clicking on Mank, and first visit or re-visit Citizen Kane as I did. (it's available to rent at Amazon Prime).
It's clear the minute you hit the play-it button, that Mank is going to be a homage to the Welles film. Shot in black and white and with the film credits rolled out right at the top is true to the story's time frame. This visual authenticity prevails throughout.
The opening scene establishes the primary plot line about how, when, and by whom Citizen Kane was written. We see 1930s cars zooming along a highway, with one headed to a cottage at a ranch 90 miles north of Hollywood. Here's where washed-up, alcoholic Herman Mankiewiez (Gary Oldman) has been sent to heal a broken leg and write the script . He's accompanied by his secretary, Rita Alexander (Lily Collins), and his German Housekeeper, Frãulein Frieda (Monika Gossmann). John Houseman (Sam Troughton), will show up regularly to make sure it will be completed in time. The visual authenticty of shooting everything in black and white is further underscored by the scenery that takes us to other places that figure importantly in the script.
Actually, quite a lot has been written about all this, but never in a way that mirrors Welles's innovations. That includes the way he jumped back and forth in his storytelling. Thus a conversation between Mankiewietz and Houseman, or a dictating session with Rita can shift to an actual event in the developing script.
It's Mankiewicz 's long relationship with studio head Louis B. Mayer, newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst and his girlfriend Marion Davis that provided the impetus and details for the film's plot. (in Mank they are played by Arlis Howard, Charles Dance and Amanda Seyfried respectively).
If you never or too long ago saw Citizen Kane, this fragmented presentation will at first be hard to follow, slow, and feel gimmicky. But hang in. There are scenes coming that will draw you in with their gallery of other characters. Mankiewicz's pals from his Algonquin Round Table days are still spouting bon mots in the studios to which they've come for the big salaries.
Besides his other transplanted buddies, Mankiewicz also became a friend to William Randolph Hearst (Charles Dance) and his paramour, the starlet Marion Davies (Amanda Seyfried). The scene in which he first arrives at Hearst's palatial San Simeon and Marion is being filmed is the first of several other wonderful ones between them that are sure to win both Oldham and Seyfried awards nomination. Dance is also very fine as the tycoon. As for Orson Welles, Tom Burke is also fine and even looks a bit like Welles. As the production notes indicate, the cast is too large to say more than to say that major and minor characters are all good choices.
Naturally, the screen time given to Mankiewiecz's relationship with Hearst, Marion and studio head Louis B. Mayer (Arlis Howard) works to show the imaginative instinct in Mankiewicz's mind to win out over friendship.
Obviously, the late Jack Fincher's script was written long before the election of Donald Trump and his love affair with media tycoons like Rupert Murdoch and branding coverage from others as fake news. David Fincher's inclusion of cthe 1934 California governor fight between a Trump-iike Republican and muckraking, socialist writer Upton Sinclair shows Hollywood's complicity in defeating Sinclair and adds a timely relevancy to his father's version. The creation of an untruthful, Sinclair-trashing newsreel by Louis B. Mayer's right-hand man, Irving Thalberg (Ferdinand Kingsley) echoes Trump's fake news mantra.
Though Mank may not have been intended as a political drama with a backdrop of Hollywood's glamorous past, its politial scenes, the eye-popping scenery and strong cast make it worth seeing even though it requires my suggested homework to appreciate the Mank-Citizen Kane parallels.
Actually, you might want to follow up that homework by watching The Magnificent Ambersons which Welles also directed and which I think is much more of a masterpiece than Citizen Kane. (It's also available for rent at Amazon and still magnificent despite having been drastically cut). Additional enjoyable homework suggestions: Reading some of the excellent available biographies of characters like Welles, Hearst, Ben Hecht, Irving Thalberg, and Louis B. Mayer. The Booth Tarkington novel, The Magnificent Ambersons, on which the film was based is a freeebie for your Amazon Kindle reader.
Search CurtainUp in the box below
Screenplay by Jack Fincher
Directed by David Fincher
Gary Oldman as Herman J. Mankiewicz
Amanda Seyfried as Marion Davies
Lily Collins as Rita Alexander, Herman's secretary, from whom Susan Alexander Kane gets her name.
Arliss Howard as Louis B. Mayer
Tom Pelphrey as Joseph L. Mankiewicz, Herman's brother
Sam Troughton as John Houseman
Ferdinand Kingsley as Irving Thalberg
Tuppence Middleton as Sara Mankiewicz, Herman's wife
Tom Burke as Orson Welles
Joseph Cross as Charles Lederer
Jamie McShane as Shelly Metcalf, test shot director and Herman's friend
Toby Leonard Moore as David O. Selznick
Monika Gossmann as Frãulein Frieda, Herman's housekeeper
Charles Dance as William Randolph Hearst
Leven Rambin as Eve, Metcalf's girlfriend
Bill Nye as Upton Sinclair
Jeff Harms as Ben Hecht
Also portrayed: George S. Kaufman, Greta Garbo, Josef Von Sternberg, Norma Shearer, Eleanor Boardman, Joan Crawford, Charlie Chaplin, Geraldine Fitzgerald, Billie Dove, Rexford Tugwell, Bette Davis, Clark Gable, Charles MacArthur, Darryl F. Zanuck, S.J. Perelman, Carole Lombard, and Eddie Cantor.
Music by Trent Reznor. Atticus Ross
Cinematography Erik Messerschmidt
Edited by Kirk Baxter
Production company: Netflix International Pictures
Running time: 2 hours and 15 minutes