by Ben Thomson, Staff Writer
In a year of cancellations and catastrophes from the capsizing film industry, one studio courageously conserved Hollywood through this caustic pandemic. That studio was Netflix.
In July, the studio released Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods, in September they released Charlie Kaufman’s I’m Thinking of Ending Things and most recently in December, they gave us David Fincher’s Mank, the story of Citizen Kane co-screenwriter Herman “Mank” Mankiewicz.
Mank is a sight for sore eyes. Fincher took great pains to replicate the look and feel of a movie from the 1930s and 40s. The cigarette burned, black and white picture and crackly audio pastiche the likes of Citizen Kane and It’s a Wonderful Life, all while maintaining the careful, calculated direction for which Fincher is synonymous with.
Gary Oldman, Amanda Seyfried and Charles Dance bring the right amount of subtlety and showmanship you’d see from the likes of Jimmy Stewart or Rita Hayworth.
The black and white filter creates absolutely stunning imagery, with the most beautiful taking place at night. That said, these little details don’t serve any higher purpose than aesthetic. Even then, its mask of antiquity never fully conceals its green screen sets or digital photography.
At its surface, Mank seems like yet another La La Land-esque romp through Hollywood’s fabled “golden years.” Unlike La La Land, however, Mank holds very little sentimentality for the era it strives to replicate.
Taking place over the course of a decade (specifically 1930-1940), Mank doesn’t shy away from the uglier side of old Hollywood. Studio heads and executives are portrayed as disconnected from the plight of their employees, pretending to act sympathetic as they cut salaries in half.
Conversations about Adolf Hitler are out of touch, downplaying him as a threat and calling the would-be tyrant a “drip” who “won’t be around for too long.” Even Mank, the most honest and sensible man depicted on screen, is an alcoholic, sarcastic, undeniably genius piece of work.
What surprised me most about Mank was the relevancy it held in the year 2020. Despite being about Citizen Kane, a nearly 80-year-old film, the world of Mank felt surprisingly familiar.
The Great Depression serves as a backdrop for the plot. Scenes of people taking pay cuts and losing their jobs feels eerily familiar in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The 1934 gubernatorial election between Upton Sinclair (portrayed briefly by Bill Nye the Science Guy) and Frank Merriam greatly influences Mank’s past and shapes his future.
The media plays a big role in the outcome of the election, with MGM producing propaganda films that favor Merriam, ultimately winning him the election. Mank brings a whole new meaning to the phrase “history repeats itself.”
This is far from the best thing David Fincher has directed. This felt like more of a passion project, given that the screenplay was written by his late father.
Those expecting another Fight Club or The Social Network will be sorely disappointed. But even a mid-tier Fincher flick shines above the rest. If you’re a fan of Citizen Kane, don’t expect a perfect retelling of history (the script was based heavily on Pauline Kael’s controversial essay Raising Kane).
If you haven’t seen Citizen Kane, I suggest watching it before Mank, but this isn’t necessary for understanding the plot. Regardless, I have no doubt we’ll see Mank once again at this year’s Academy Awards.