Here is our review of Mank, the new David Fincher movie coming exclusively to Netflix.
Okay, so that headline is both hyperbole (Mank isn't going to win Best Animated Short, for example), and a bit of a misdirect, but for the sake of effect via exaggeration, it is pretty accurate. Mank is going to win A LOT of big awards on Oscar night, and that is because Mank is about the old school glory days of Hollywood, and there is nothing Hollywood loves more than a love letter to itself.
Directed by David Fincher, who has been doing great work with Netflix recently (House of Cards, Manhunter) in the six years since he last graced us with an actual movie (2014's Gone Girl), and the story focuses on Herman Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman), and his bed-ridden attempt to write the screenplay for what would eventually become arguably the greatest movie ever made: Citizen Kane.
Jumping back and forth in time, we see his self-destructive habits and want for redemption side-by-side, and how his interactions on his way down with actress Marion Davis (Amanda Seyfried), director William Randolph Hearst (Charles Dance), and producer Louis B. Meyer (Arliss Howard) fuels his new comeback project, working alongside personal assistant Rita Alexander (Lily Collins) and hot up-and-coming talent Orson Welles (Tom Burke).
Initially, the script mirrors the rat-tat-tat snappy dialogue you'd expect from a movie from that time, and the screenplay (written by Fincher's late father) does a good job of easing you into the Golden Era-glamour of it all, the political intricacies that play out within the studio walls, and it is all matched by Fincher's magnificent direction. He doesn't lean too heavily into the tricky camerawork that caught our eye in the likes of Panic Room or The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, instead presenting everything in pristine black-and-white, with DoP Erik Messerschmidt ensuring every frame could be used as a magnificent still, and editor Kirk Baxter keeping everything snappy, with an occasional overlay of some "old school" visual effects.
The same goes for Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, best known for the spooky industrial soundtracks to The Social Network or HBO's Watchmen, but here dip a toe into something very different, an almost jazzy score that you'd expect to hear on a 1940's detective movie. That lack of anachronism flows through to the performances as well, with Gary Oldman perfectly adapting to the tone of the movie, while the biggest scene-stealing comes from a surprisingly source: Amanda Seyfried. Yep, the former Mean Girl is likely to walk away with the Best Supporting Actress Oscar thanks to her layered performance here.
So with all of this positivity flowing, you might have been wondering when the "misdirect" mentioned in the opening paragraph arrives. Well, the thing is, after that first hour of introductions, the movie suddenly PILES on a huge amount of additional characters and plot directions, and a lot of it becomes very complicated, and those without prior knowledge with be left flailing. In the same way that The Big Short and Bombshell left viewers trying to make a mental note of everyone they'd need to be Wikipedia'ing once the end credits start rolling, Mank is overflowing with nods and name-checks to important people and companies, some of which may be very important to the plot of the movie, and some of which are just (literally) background dressing.
Those who want to know more will likely come back to watch it a second time, and repeat viewing is likely to bring with it more understand of the details, and more appreciation for what Fincher has done here. But viewers who don't feel like doing homework in order to get all of the references are likely to reject this particular love letter.
Still though, the Oscars are going to love it.
Mank will be released on Netflix from Friday, December 4.
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