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  Mank Respect Denied
Year: 2020
Director: David Fincher
Stars: Gary Oldman, Amanda Seyfried, Lily Collins, Tom Pelphrey, Arliss Howard, Tuppence Middleton, Monika Gossman, Joseph Cross, Sam Troughton, Toby Leonard Moore, Tom Burke, Charles Dance, Ferdinand Kingsley, Jamie McShane, Jack Romano
Genre: BiopicBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: The year is 1940, and in California writer Herman J. Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman) has recently suffered a car crash which broke his leg; although he was a passenger, he is nevertheless frequently drunk thanks to his alcoholism, which is making his career difficult to pursue. However, he may have his break at last: the wunderkind everyone is talking about in Hollywood is Orson Welles (Tom Burke), and he is making his debut movie in the industry after finding huge success in theatre and radio, so if Mank, as he is nicknamed, manages to make some magic happen it could do him a lot of good. And the film he's helping to write? Citizen Kane...

Yet another attempt to wrest ownership of the so-called "greatest film ever made" from the hands of its director Orson Welles, Mank took the Pauline Kael view that he would not have been able to create such a masterpiece on his own when it had been his first attempt (aside from an amateur effort in the nineteen-thirties called Too Much Johnson). This scepticism has some valid points, there's a reason Welles made sure his director titles card was shared with the cinematographer credit of Greg Toland on the final print, for example, yet it also did the talent a grave disservice seeing as how he had already proved himself prodigiously able to craft inspired works.

There's something sneering and denigrating about this attitude that translates into an irksomely arch quality about director David Fincher's snippet of biography of Mankiewicz, penned by Fincher's late father and intended to be made many years before Netflix were persuaded to stump up the cash thanks to his Mindhunter series doing so well for them. It was this kind of give and take that had ensnared many creatives in the Netflix web, but it was debatable whether this entirely did them good for the results were often either dispiritingly corporate or misguidedly self-indulgent, and Mank was the latter, lovingly creating Toland's style but not matching it with Kane's depth.

There's a particularly awful scene late on where Mank shows up at a party held by William Randolph Hearst (Charles Dance), the media tycoon who was convinced Kane was about him thanks either to vanity or the extreme touchiness of the very rich and powerful. In it, our hero explains the whole plot of Kane - in 1937! - for the hard-of-thinking, to underline the film's belief that it was all his idea, so groaningly manipulative that Welles, who barely features, would have been spinning in his grave had he not been thoroughly exhausted by commentators taking his babies away from him while he was alive. The records certainly don't back up Mankiewicz's ownership: he contributed the basics, or some of them, but Welles was the one who whipped it into shape and improved on his more obvious writings.

The truth was, Mank was generally a mediocre screenwriter who may have been known as a wit, but you could randomly throw a stone into the Hollywood of the thirties and forties and hit a wit, his brother Joseph was a far more adept writer and we're not getting a film about him. There were extensive flashbacks to the elections in 1934 where Mank looks on numbly as Hearst and the Hollywood bigwigs like Louis B. Mayer sabotage a left-leaning candidate for Governor to sustain their power which aspires to be a James Ellroy-style bit of two-fisted myth-making, and Hearst's movie star mistress Marion Davies was brightly played by Amanda Seyfried, but her subplot led to a damp squib when she was believed to be portrayed in Kane, but, er, wasn't - Davies was no flop, she was a pretty big star even if aside from this faux association she is little remembered now. It's constant digs like that that sabotage Mank, romanticising the soused artist in a way that does nobody any favours. Music, a pastiche of Bernard Herrmann, by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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David Fincher  (1962 - )

American director who brings roving camerawork and a surface gloss to dark subjects. Moving on from advertising and videos (including Madonna's "Vogue"), he had a bad experience directing Alien 3, but went from strength to strength thereafter with horror hit Seven, thrillers The Game and Panic Room, and cult black comedy Fight Club. Zodiac was a true life police procedural on the eponymous serial killer, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button an endurance test of fantasy tweeness, The Social Network detailed the unlovely background behind Facebook and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo a remake of the Scandinavian thriller. With an adaptation of the bestselling novel Gone Girl, he was awarded one of his biggest hits. He then moved to a "golden handcuffs" deal with streaming service Netflix, creating hit series Mindhunter and Citizen Kane biopic Mank.

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