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  • Writer's pictureS.J.

'Mank' Review: Gary Oldman Portrays A Screenwriter In David Fincher's Biographical Drama

Gary Oldman standing on a street

You might've not expected director David Fincher to end up making black-and-white biographical drama films that scream prestige and awards, I certainly wasn't, but you could also say that his previous movie 'Gone Girl' was also a sidestep in that sense. Mank tells somewhat a story of screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz (played by Gary Oldman) during the time of writing the 1941's 'Citizen Kane' by Orson Welles (Tom Burke) as he also happens to be dealing with raging alcoholism, political games and self-doubt about his career and personal relationships. I’d like to start out by mentioning that I understood who the movie was about but I was rather surprised to see what it is about. That might’ve played a big part in my enjoyment, of course also helped by the outstanding technical craft behind the story and acting.

Those technical intricacies are surely recognised when award season rolls around because it’s marvellous when you recreate 1930s and 40s in such a slick way. Cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt continues his collaboration with Fincher from ’Mindhunter’ and that level of artistry is still there, it doesn’t overwhelm you with shadows, silhouettes or beams of light as you can easily do with black & white. Instead the visuals match the size of the room where the scene plays out, creating a nice symbiosis with Donald Graham Burt’s wonderful production design. Some individual highlight moments are also reserved for other creatives; costume design, makeup and hair stylists also get their moment in the spotlight. Expect a lot of recognition for all of them.

Mank shifts between ’Citizen Kane’ writing and flashbacks to pre-war days of Mankiewicz’s life and career. Surprising factor of that story comes from tying it into a political landscape of those and modern times, really reinvigorating the film at the halfway point which I found to be very lovely. Oldman does great work, being a big part of why I forgot about the actors and got sucked into the life of ’’Mank’’. On the flip side, Amanda Seyfried as Marion Davies, an actress and mistress of William Randolph Hearst (Charles Dance), did the opposite but in the best way. Her performance radiates star qualities of past and present, making you wish you had seen more of her even. Fincher is known for being meticulous with performances and there isn’t a single cast member once again who disappoints.

What did disappoint me however was the tacky sound design choices; making the film sound tinny and treble-y is awful to listen to (I actually had to lower the volume). You get that it’s for ’’authenticity’’ but that still doesn’t make it good, there are reasons why the equipment has evolved from the 1930s. It also sadly ruined Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ score which I’d recommend you to listen to as a soundtrack, not as part of the film.

Smileys: Cinematography, production design, Amanda Seyfried, Gary Oldman

Frowneys: Sound design

Not the best of Fincher but at least it’s something new for him. Also ironically, the screenplay gets overshadowed by everything else going on.


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