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After a long six-year break from film directing David Fincher comes back with a tale of Old Hollywood; an autobiography about an alcoholic, erratic but genius screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman). The black and white film is giving the viewer a snapshot into Mank’s life in the 1930s as he races to finish a script for Orson Welles’s motion picture Citizen Kane (1941), a film that would become one of the most influential pieces of work in the American film industry. The movie jumps backwards and forwards throughout time depicting key moments in Mank’s life that inspired and influenced him in writing his masterpiece.

The script for Mank was originally written by David Fincher’s father Jack Fincher and I must admit it’s been some time since I have enjoyed the dialogue so much. I admit. I do have a soft spot for good dialogues which in this film brilliantly portrayed both Mank’s wit and character. His exchanges with Rita Alexander (Lilly Collins), Marion Davies (Amanda Seyfried) and many other characters are truly engaging and made me giggle on multiple occasions. Of course, the dialogues wouldn’t be as impactful without the brilliant performance of all the actors and direction provided by David Fincher who has applied his fact-pace style in dialogues. It may require a little bit more of your attention than in other films but it’s worth the effort.

David Fincher’s signature in attention to detail is without a doubt very prevalent in Mank. The film is shot using HRD and Red Monochrome (8K) but was degraded and blurred using CGI to make it look authentic to the ways moving pictures were produced in 1930s. Dust, crack in the frame and lights down during scene transition brilliantly demonstrate the old primitive techniques. The sound mixing creating an echoing effect and music score, using only instruments available at the time, composed by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross only amplify the period authenticity. Fincher has also artificially inserted cigarette burns, previously also used in Fight Club (1999), which functioned to signal the projectionist that a reel of a movie is ending, only demonstrates Fincher’s attention to detail. The technical aspects of the film are truly exceptional and both Fincher and the cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt deserve a huge applause. It is so convincing that if you weren’t told the film was released in 2020, you may have easily mistaken it for an old flick.

Cigarette Burn (Credits to Netflix)

I think that in order to experience the film to the fullest I would highly recommend watching Citizen Kane before watching Mank as it will provide the necessary context to better understand some of the themes, dialogues and settings, thus enabling you to make parallels between the two films and enhance your enjoyment. One could even say it is a film within a film with scenes directly mirroring each other. A quote “You Cannot Capture an Entire Man’s Life in Two Hours” depicts a challenge for both Jack Fincher and Herman Mankiewicz in writing a film that could adequately capture the essentials of the character’s life and the character itself. In addition, both movies have similarities in a non-linear narrative style and utilise similar camera and lighting techniques which I enjoyed comparing.  

There is a saying that sometimes “genius comes hand in hand with madness”. Hidden behind Mank’s genius, wit and good humour, lies instead of madness, his self-destructive alcoholism and gambling. I can’t help but to highlight again an excellent performance by Gary Oldman in portraying a complex personality such as Mank’s. The film touches on these struggles subtly and it is this subtlety that I appreciate. 

It could be said that this film won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. I have praised the dialogues, but they can sometimes be difficult to follow and without watching Citizen Kane you probably won’t be able get most of the references. The non-linearity of the film may put some viewers off as well. However, I have personally enjoyed watching the film and I can see it being nominated for Academy Awards. I loved the cinematography, dialogues and performance of the actors.

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Spoiler-free Review

By Obin Nguyen

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