Auteur David Fincher (“The Social Network”) has arguably the most visually beautiful film of this year with “Mank,” about the trials of screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz in the production of “Citizen Kane.”
The film is gorgeous, crisp and flashes like a jewel before the eyes. It makes an excellent primer for anyone interested in Mankiewicz or the making of a classic Hollywood film.
Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman) is tasked with writing “Citizen Kane” for Orson Welles (Tom Burke). But there is a problem: the famed writer has sustained a car crash and has a penchant for drinking. Welles constantly badgers Herman who tells him there is nothing to worry about.
Events become more and more tense as Mankiewicz realizes that fanaticism in the form of fascism is taking hold across the country while the Hollywood elite downplay the threat. Louis B. Mayer (Arliss Howard) becomes seduced by a right-wing Republican cause and parties have a wanton and wasteful decadence. Mankiewicz is gradually marginalized. His only friend is the wise Marion Davies (Amanda Seyfried).
The film is a wonderful tribute to “Citizen Kane” with its deep focus scenery and its tableaux that are larger than life size, just as in the film classic. People are the size of ants lost in a Hollywood jungle, gothic and scary. The film with its long shots of empty streets together with a moody score by Trent Reznor also recall the films “Cape Fear” and “Double Indemnity.” Thematically with its emphasis of Upton Sinclair and the word ‘socialism’ the film eerily points to our national circumstances.
With rolling hyperactive dialogue and long haunted streets, Fincher is the poet of our pandemic age.
Mankiewicz, inebriated and looking askance becomes the only sane individual in a pleasure palace overrun with economic and political anxiety. Like Nathaniel West’s Day of the Locust, Hollywood is sick with a fever of greed and shallow opinion. Despite his seriousness, Mankiewicz is dismissed. The gifted writer and critic received an Oscar with Welles but never pushed for a screen credit again and died at age 55.
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