Film And Movies

What Went Wrong With… Mank (2020)?

A review of David Fincher Netflix film Mank

Mank is a biographical drama about Herman J. Mankiewicz who with Orson Welles wrote the screenplay for Citizen Kane. Who wrote what is a matter of contention and that’s what this film purports to be about. Citizen Kane or “C.K. One” as I like to call it (on account that it stinks but continues to be popular) is a colossally overrated film. Despite being slavered over by critics, I personally found it to be, for lack of a better word; boring. This isn’t some kind of ignorance of cinematic history, it’s an honest opinion. To evoke a racist white guy’s maxim: some of my favourite films are black… and white. From Chaplin to Whale, Hitchcock and Lumet, B&W movies are some of the best made but Citizen Kane isn’t one of them in my opinion. It might have been because I was extremely young, but I recall being unimpressed when I sat down and watched Kane with my family. I suppose that it’s quite apt, at least from my perspective, that a film about it’s creation, is similarly dull and unimpressive.

In terms of cast, it has to be said that Gary Oldman has gone off the boil in recent years, what with mediocre movies like the Robocop remake and Oscar-winning, revisionist, crapfest Darkest Hour to his name. A declining career is by-the-by however, what matters here is the fact that Gary Leonard Oldman looks nothing like Herman Jacob Mankiewicz. And since when did Orson Welles look like Corwin Earle from Gone Baby Gone? Tom Burke is no Vincent D’Onofrio (someone who’s believably played Welles). Anyone from Alden Caleb Ehrenreich to Leonardo DiCaprio would have been preferable but the B-list supporting cast seems to be a money-saving tactic.

David Fincher is undoubtedly a massive talent and it goes without saying that Mank looks good. This picture isn’t as beautiful or as impressive as Tarsem Singh’s The Fall but thanks to cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt, Mank evokes the right period of time. The olde visuals seem to be the main reason to watch this film, but after you get over the look, there’s not much else left. The repetitive throwback score begins to grate on you, sounding more like parody than pastiche (as does most of the acting). At 2 hours and 12 minutes, Mank feels very long with too much of it spent on peripheral issues such as war and elections to feel focused. And the pace is so sedate in parts that you may find yourself nodding off (much like viewing actual 1940’s Hollywood movies). So what else does this movie achieve aside from putting Fincher’s late father’s script into production? The answer is nothing.

Mank is about a drunk bloke who was essentially a ghostwriter, and fans now think he should get more credit for creating a “classic” film, and that’s fine. But since Mankiewicz was the writer, why has a filmmaker gone to such lengths to make this flick resemble Welles’ work? Whereas Tim Burton’s excellent Ed Wood was cleverly made to look like the work of the eponymous director, Mank resembles err… old, warm, monochrome celluloid. And its this smokey, shadowy, cigarette-burnt, ’40s aesthetic that’s the film’s only positive; it’s not the writing which lacks the snappy wit of David Fincher’s past collaborators Aaron Sorkin and Jim Uhls. The fact that a film about a writer (which intermittently includes script elements) isn’t particularly well written is ironic to say the least.

So is Welles a genius or was he a one hit wonder? He did make The Transformers: The Movie, so he’s obviously the former. 😄 And should Mankiewicz be mentioned more often when people speak about Citizen Kane? Sure, but he’s not credited for co-writing the Kansas portion of The Wizard Of Oz either, so un-credited posthumous fame seems like an unfortunate part of his life. That being said, please Netflix, don’t make another talented director translate any other part of Mankiewicz’ life to the small screen. I’ve had enough.

This is basically another love letter to Hollywood’s “great” past like Quentin Tarantino‘s similarly critically overrated shite-fest Once Upon A Time In Hollywood. Mank is a black and white ode to a period of time that only a select few give a toss about; it’s made for film students, cinephiles, pompous critics, and nostalgia-obsessed hipsters. Mank, like Citizen Kane, is a bland, overrated movie that lacks weight, intrigue, or likeable and relatable characters for regular viewers to care about. The lasting impression for me was: you put the classic TV series Mindhunter on indefinite hold because of this? Get your arse back to telling us about B.T.K. Dave!


Writing: 3/10

Directing: 6/10

Acting: 4/10

Overall: 3/10

2 replies »

  1. You have a great point asking why a movie reappropriating “CK One” from Welles to Mank has to look like Welles.
    I just discovered your website and I have a good time reading, cheers from Paris!

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