Hyped by many as the film of the year and the one to beat in 2021’s upcoming awards race, Mank is a black and white, old Hollywood epic by David Fincher about the writing of Citizen Kane.
Mank – a rubbish title that’s just asking for it – is what everyone called Herman Mankiewicz, washed-up screenwriter and wit enlisted by Orson Welles to tell the story of the wunderkind’s first movie after all those radio and theatre successes. Mank is played by Gary Oldman, using some of the prosthetics, and booze, left over from embodying Churchill. Wary of Mank’s alcoholism and lack of application, Welles carts him off to a desert location, gives him a pretty English nurse (Lily Collins) and a typewriter.
The rest is flashback, with obvious nods to Welles’ style, and it’s all about old Hollywood and a 1932 gubernatorial election, and media magnate William Randolph Hearst (Charles Dance doing the usual dance) and his starlet wife Marian Davies, played by Amanda Seyfried.
Critics love this movie because it namechecks Selznick and Louis B Meyer and Irving Thalberg and it takes place on studio backlots and in writers’ rooms and it references Upton Sinclair and Ben Hecht and it looks great. But to be honest, it’s a slog. I can’t deny some scenes are terrific set-pieces, but they drift on and on and so much depends on us finding Gary Oldman’s Mank a rakish charmer or incorrigible wit – and I just didn’t. I thought it was a hammy performance (Oldman’s always been a ham), the script wasn’t half as smart as it needed to be and there’s a coldness to all the relationships and to the cinematography (as chill as Fincher’s adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), nothing to warm the heart or lift the soul. The Wellesian passion is missing, the kid in a toyshop fun of Citizen Kane all disappeared.
And frankly, that dark heart of classic Hollywood stuff is old hat. Like Mank himself, it’s a colossal bore.
On Netflix and in cinemas