They say that to tell an impactful story, you got to only talk about what you already know. That means pulling out of your deepest experiences and sharing them with others who don’t know you. It takes a lot of intense vulnerability to be a storyteller, and you got to confront parts about yourself you never knew were there. Likewise, David Fincher’s approach to the story of Herman J. Mankiewicz highlights how his life through the Great Depression translated into the turmoil of Charles Foster Kane, a man who tried to claim the American dream but ended up losing it all. Every American feels what Mank felt to some extent, and it of course takes a biopic like this to prove how much personal experience must translate into sharing the right story with those who need to hear it.
Right from the get-go of this feature, you feel nervous for the fate of Mr. Mank, and still feel nervous about him in all the way to the end. The film’s lack of color subtly conveys how everybody onscreen has the same story to tell, because they’re all interpreted by Mank’s black-and-white thinking, which you know by now is unstable. The look combined with the music choice really does make this feel just like an old film noir with its opening credits, or maybe even like a horror movie with the costumes that all act more like straightjackets for the characters the same way Hollywood’s rules and regulations at the time restricted creative expression.
It can’t make the movie ultimately exciting however, as this will be pretty boring for anyone not familiar with every detail of the subject matter; and with how much this tries to make us sympathize with only the rich and famous, priority falls on stroking that ego of celebrity life. Whenever they talk, the pacing is way too rapid-fire—one piece of dialogue starts half a second after the last, like when a performing ventriloquist tries to quickly transition between his own voice and his dummy’s response. This makes it feel like it was made in the 1940s, but with all the bad aspects of filmmaking trends at the time. Well, when your movie is just a movie of flashbacks and no real message, of course you should expect that to mean the pacing isn’t motivated either.
To make matters worse, absolutely no people of ethnic minorities get speaking parts, everybody is as white as paper. It treats all cultures outside of America like they’re just fun costumes for the actors to wear, whether they be turbans, fezzes, or actors dressed as American Indians while filming a Western. So that means you can officially call Mank one of the most racist movies you’ll ever see. But while it’s equally as racist as any movie you’d watch in the 1930s or 1940s, it’s equally as sexist too. Just look at the nude woman wearing tassels who just sits in a room full of men, unspeaking, for absolutely no plot purpose. And this is okay?
It gets worse though, there’s one scene where Mank’s incredibly young and extremely attractive female caretaker takes off his pants while he lies on the bed, almost in a fellatio position, even though she’s actually just helping him undress for bed since he’s physically unable to. It’s even more disturbing when you consider Mank was really in his 30s at the time, and a man in his 60s was casted anyways while his caretaker is still a woman in her early 30s. That right there is not only problematic, but also proves just how careless this movie is in remaining faithful to what really happened. Research proves that quite a bit of the events shown are either made up or depicted as definite when they were never confirmed to have really happened. So without a true seal of authenticity, that means it can be dangerous for other Americans to be watching this selfish movie.
Not that it means it can’t get you angry about the right stuff too though, as you do feel the fury building between Mank and the other men and women he interacts with, especially when it includes the symbolism of the harness in his bed for his leg to show how he’s limited. Mank behaves like a monkey for most of the film… a “man-monkey” if you will, which he got to with no thanks to the Great Depression. Plenty of other details also add some authenticity to the inauthentic script; you will occasionally see a “cigarette burn” on the screen, to make it look like it’s playing from an old film reel. Also, in one conversation through a zoo, the monkeys, elephants, and giraffes appear perfectly in timing to the context of the dialogue. And the cleverest detail of all: One argues that it’s impossible to tell a whole man’s life story in only two hours, yet here we are!
You’d be amazed to see how many shots look like various setups from Citizen Kane, particularly in any scenes where Gary Oldman and Amanda Seyfried interact. They’re both easy Oscar contenders; you can tell their eye gazes are locked into figuring out the stories of the other, in precisely the same fashion as Orson Welles and Dorothy Comingore on screen together. Then as the jazzy atmosphere comes up at various points of the film, it all contrasts the perfect climactic monologue Gary Oldman gives. It’s the type of faithfulness to a great American classic that demands a back-to-back screening of the two.
So what if you did want to be a screenwriter? Or maybe a playwright or a novelist? Or maybe you just wanted to write your own short stories for fun? Well, that means you’re one of the few people out there Mank is required viewing for. In fact, you should watch this and Citizen Kane back-to-back. Then take the time to study and analyze how one’s personal life translates into a fictional persona on screen. In fact, this film is itself a translation of the author’s personal self into a fictionalized version of someone who fictionalized himself on screen. That means when you watch Gary Oldman as Mank on screen, you actually are seeing Mank as told by Kane as told by Oldman as told by Fincher. Confused yet? Well, that’s the point.
If there is a specific movie you’d like to see graded, or if you are interested in guest blogging for my site, please email me at Trevor@TrevorsViewOnHollywood.com for your recommendations.
Have a great weekend, and happy watching!