Review by Rich Cline | 4/5

dir David Fincher
scr Jack Fincher
prd Cean Chaffin, Eric Roth, Douglas Urbanski
with Gary Oldman, Amanda Seyfried, Lily Collins, Tom Pelphrey, Arliss Howard, Charles Dance, Tuppence Middleton, Tom Burke, Sam Troughton, Ferdinand Kingsley, Joseph Cross, Monika Gossmann
release US 20.Nov.20,
UK 4.Dec.20
20/US Netflix 2h11

collins pelphrey howard

Is it streaming?

seyfried and oldman
With his usual attention to detail, David Fincher recounts the story of the creation of Citizen Kane in immaculate period style. The playful script by Fincher's late father Jack cleverly explores the life of an iconic writer while knowingly commenting on the history of Hollywood itself. Fans of classic moviemaking will find this irresistible: funny, moving, insightful and even provocative as it grapples with some bigger issues.
At age 24 in 1940, Orson Welles (Burke) has full autonomy to make his first movie, so he puts his writer Herman Mankiewicz (Oldman), "Mank" to his friends, in a house in the desert to work on the script. Overseeing him, John Houseman (Troughton) thinks he's taking too long on an an overcomplicated script. And his writer brother Joseph (Pelphrey) tries to lure him to another project. Then once the screenplay is finished, there are a whole new series of battles to be fought as everyone tries to convince him to walk away from it.
The story flickers around in time to tell Mank's story from his days as one of the top screenwriters in the 1930s to his friendship with media baron William Hearst (Dance) and his movie-star mistress Marion Davies (Seyfried), who sees Mank as a kindred spirit. Erik Messerschmidt's silvery monochrome cinematography is simply magnificent, making the most of Fincher's clever directorial flourishes as well as his cinematic perfectionism. And the music by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross impeccably captures the period and mood, skilfully matching the script's jazz riffs.

Performances across the board are fully committed, creating almost staggeringly vivid characters. Oldman goes for broke as the sharp-but-curmudgeonly Mank, a genius always ready with a pithy comment, which helps him face a range of obstacles. It's a compelling and complex role, and Oldman channels it beautifully in a proper tour-de-force. Opposite him, the film's heart belongs to Seyfried, who sharply captures Marion's snappy wit and even more engaging emotional shadows. And the sprawling ensemble is packed with ace scene-stealers and gifted newcomers.

This film is almost criminally riveting, forcing the audience to lean in so we don't miss a word or glance. An extended subplot involving a bitter gubernatorial election feels distracting, but reveals some intriguing truths as well as timely parallels. More interesting is how Mank's script is seen as an attack on the all-powerful Hearst, which has even more jarring present-day echoes. So it's rather odd that Fincher's precise, almost clinical approach feels so disconnected from the characters' filmmaking passion.

cert 12 themes, language, violence 23.Nov.20

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© 2020 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall