A Review of David Fincher’s MANK: Handsome Yet Hollow

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David Fincher has become one of those directors that has many film fanatics salivating upon every release of his films…and considering he has yet to win an Oscar (he most infamously lost his nod for THE SOCIAL NETWORK to that of Tom Hooper for THE KING’S SPEECH), he has taken up the banner of “most overdue” for an Oscar since Martin Scorsese finally won an Oscar back in 2007.

Fincher, much like another beloved director Quentin Tarantino, has never been a director that I’ve loved. It goes without saying that I certainly have liked or even loved some of his films: SEVEN, ZODIAC, and THE SOCIAL NETWORK are easily his best works and I would say that FIGHT CLUB (which I don’t love nearly as much as most do), PANIC ROOM, and THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATOO are solid efforts.

He is a director that is, without a doubt, a marvel when it comes to the technical aspects. He has also been notorious for working actors to the bone in a similar vein of someone like Stanley Kubrick, my favorite American director. However, I can’t say that any of his films (aside from SOCIAL NETWORK and ZODIAC which were truly fantastic) have driven me to have any kind of passion. There is a certain lack of an emotional core in his work…and that isn’t to say that all the best films have characters or situations you necessarily care about. Look at a movie such as Martin Scorsese’s GOODFELLAS, in which we spend a lot of time around rather vile mobsters and yet we are consistently intrigued by them.

This brings me to MANK, a movie that was a passion project for David Fincher that manages to be two completely different things: perhaps Fincher’s most detailed and technically marvelous work AND one of the more cold and distant efforts of his career.

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MANK is based on writer Herman J. Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman) who is most remembered today as being the co-writer of the legendary 1941 film CITIZEN KANE…and the script was written by Fincher’s late father Jack who passed away in 2003. It had been Fincher’s goal to producer his father’s script after he made THE GAME in 1997…but at the time, studios still didn’t have much faith in Fincher nor did they want to produce a film such as this in the manner he wanted to do so: black & white.

Fast forward to 2020: Fincher releases MANK to Netflix after having shot it in 8K resolution and then degraded the film quality to make it match the films that came out during the time in which CITIZEN KANE was filmed.

I almost think that MANK is to CITIZEN KANE just as LA LA LAND was to various movie musicals. Fincher, and his father’s script, try so hard to follow the same format of CITIZEN KANE’s structure and visual aesthetic that after a while, I felt like I kept thinking “Oh, there’s THAT shot”, “Oh, she is delivering that line similarly to Agnes Moorehead”…that kind of thing.

It might be fun to see the old-fashioned fade to black screen cuts of yesteryear but in the end, I am not sure the fact that the film looks rather splendid is enough for me to find much of a reason to care about the story of the drunken man who helped fight to get CITIZEN KANE made.

Acting wise, the ensemble wasn’t bad but I certainly wasn’t blown away by anybody.

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It goes without saying that Gary Oldman is one of our finest actors and he certainly does a good job here. I feel like there have been years where he could’ve contended strongly for an Oscar nomination but it is too early to tell in my opinion if he should slip in this year. I know this might be a major nitpick but despite his fantastic skills as an actor, he was far too old to play Mank…especially as there are scenes where we are supposed to believe he is 30 years old. I get that Mank was a drunk but I think it was moments like that made me wonder if maybe they should’ve gone a different route with casting. Still, it was Gary Oldman and he does well with his drunken material, especially in the film’s final third when he has a drunken rant involving writer-turned-politician Upton Sinclair.

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One other name getting a lot of attention from this film is Amanda Seyfried, from MEAN GIRLS, MAMMA MIA, and LES MISERABLES; she plays real life actress Marion Davies, who was the partner of William Randolph Hearst, the man in which CITIZEN KANE was inspired by.

Seyfried is, as of this writing, being considered the early frontrunner to win Best Supporting Actress. This movie does show that Seyfried is a skilled actress….and she was actually quite good doing dramatic work in the 2017 revival of David Lynch & Mark Frost’s TWIN PEAKS…and I would say that she does a good job with what she is given. The only thing is I am not sure I whether or not I agree this is a performance that warrants an Oscar. I could see her, perhaps, being nomination worthy but nothing about her performance made me think “Oscar!”. Then again, if Laura Dern can win an Oscar for her performance in MARRIAGE STORY then anything is possible.

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The one person I actually left the movie thinking about the most was Lily Collins, who plays Mank’s secretary Rita. Her presence is poised and she gives off a no-nonsense vibe which made me look forward to any time she appeared…and for some reason, I really bought into her as being a person of this time more than anyone else. I am still not sure if I would call her “Oscar nomination worthy” yet but I might be inclined to call her the MVP of the cast beyond the solid work that Oldman was able to achieve with the text/direction he was given.

So, in terms of awards, would I nominate MANK for any Oscars?

I think the technical accomplishments deserve to be acknowledged:

Cinematography, Production Design, perhaps Costumes and Sound and maybe Score.

I also feel like Oldman, Collins, and Seyfried have the potential to be worthy nominees but I am not sold on this quite yet.

There has been a lot of buzz this year in the film buff universe regarding Fincher’s overdue status at the Oscars and that this film could be the one to finally net him the win.

I am very torn on this. On one hand, yes, Fincher is at his most glossy and stylized here and it was quite the marvel to behold but he is also trying hard to emulate the spirit of the Orson Welles aesthetic while also harboring a script that could be hard to follow and one that had me left wondering what was so pressing about this story getting told aside from the fact that revolved around two things: the making of what is often considered the greatest American film of all time AND a film director wanting to make his late father’s script.

To paraphrase the words of Orson Welles: “And that, my dear readers, is Hollywood”.

RATING (out of 5 stars)

***1/2 (B)

(The technical aspects and solid ensemble helped boost the rating…otherwise I may have given this a lesser one)

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