Mank

(movie review)

This is a business where the buyer gets nothing for his money but memory. What he bought still belongs to the man who sold it. That’s the real magic of the movies!”
By Louis Burt Mayer, the Hollywood film producer

How do you imagine the 1930s Hollywood? A sunny place where everyone was working hard? Where directors and producers were serving for high purposes of art? Where objectivity, openness and kindness were valued? If you think so, don’t watch this movie because it’ll trample down your naivety in the dirt…and will be jumping on it!

Mank’ is a 2020 American biographical drama shot by legendary David Fincher (yeah, this dude, who filmed ‘Fight Club’). The screenplay was written by his father Jack in the late 1990s, but his death in 2003 forced his son to freeze the project for almost 20 years. Only in the 2019 summer, Mank was officially announced. World film-stars such as Gary Oldman, Amanda Seyfried, Lily Collins, Arliss Howard, Tom Pelphrey, Sam Troughton, Ferdinand Kingsley, Tuppence Middleton, Tom Burke and Charles Dance were invited to play. Filming took place in Los Angeles and lasted from November 2019 to February 2020.

Finally, on December 4, David Fincher delighted viewers, and Netflix posted Mank on its platform.

The movie tells us about “scathing social critic and alcoholic screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz”, who’s simply called Mank. Although he has a scandalous reputation as a drunkard and gambler, his experience and talent elevate him among other writers and screenwriters. His ability is noticed by a young director-wunderkind Orson Welles and involved him in writing the script of Citizen Kane. For Mank, this is the most difficult and responsible job, for which he is given only 60 days.

However, in undertaking this project, Mank puts himself in serious danger. In fact, his main character is an old and greedy media tycoon, very much like the real billionaire William Hearst. Willie is ready for anything for his interests, reputation and power. Thus, writing about him nasty things, Mank is playing with fire. Friends and family of the screenwriter understand this and they are trying to persuade him to break the contract with Orson Welles and bury the project. Will Mank sacrifice the fee, booze and art for the sake of friendship and family relationships?

Don’t pay attention that the protagonist is an alcoholic. Actually, the movie is very intellectual. So much so, to understand what’s happening, you’ll need to google certain names and personalities. At least, you have to understand a bit the Golden Age of Hollywood and what’s Citizen Kane about.

On the other hand, Mank is steeped with aphorisms and sarcastic jokes like, “Write hard. Aim low,” and “If I could swim, I’d be doing swimmingly,” or “I thought, I was rejecting a humiliating handout, when all the time, I was nixing a respectable bribe.”

Depicted in the movie, Hollywood appears in a completely different guise than one might imagine. This is a corrupt and gloom place where integrity is traded for a chance to sit in the big chair. For example, William Hearst funds the film company MGM to make phony films and promote to the governor a person who represents his interests.

Generally, the movie performance is incredible. To convey the atmosphere of the 1930s, David Fincher used the black & white colors, curved fonts and fading transitions that were so popular in the XXth century. Cuban cigars, felt hats, humpback cars created that unique American entourage, and the impeccable acting makes you believe what’s happening on the screen. All this gives the impression of “dizzying time-machine splendor.”

On review website ‘Rotten Tomatoes,’ Mank received mostly positive reviews. Critics commented the movie so: “Sharply written and brilliantly performed, Mank peers behind the scenes of Citizen Kane to tell an old Hollywood story that could end up being a classic in its own right.” However, some viewers called the movie boring and too complicated (well, they haven’t seen my review yet.).

‘Rotten Tomatoes’ rated Mank 7.6/10, ‘Metacritic’ rated it 79/100, and ‘IndieWire’ gave the movie a “B+.”

As for me, Mank turned out really difficult. Although its running time is only two hours, it took me the whole eight hours to watch and understand it. Quite often I had to pause the movie to read additional materials or rewatch scenes. However, this sacrifice was worth it.

During watching I was sharing Mank’s drunken merriment and his sad sobriety, witnessing his fight against corrupt Hollywood, and living the life of the America’s greatest screenwriter. The movie gave me an unforgettable experience and once again proved that violating social norms is much better than blindly imitating them.

Indeed, ‘Mank’ is not for everyone. It strains the brains and provokes thinking. So, if you like intellectual movies, this one will be the best choice.

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