Mank? More like Mehnk.

I got this instead of Mindhunter Season 3?

It’s strange to see such a flawed film come from such a perfectionist.

These were my thoughts directly after watching “Mank.” Although I’m thrilled at the thought of Fincher finally winning his Best Director Oscar, the thought of him winning for “Mank” strips all of my feelings of jubilation away from his triumph. “Mank” is just another Hollywood “in” film about the old Hollywood system controlled by ignorant Hollywood elites. It hardly makes an effort to make its subject matter compelling to those outside of the entertainment industry – though at second thought, I’m not sure I could effectively sum up what the subject matter was. Allegedly, it’s a film about the writing of “Citizen Kane,” but that doesn’t seem to be what it’s particularly interested in exploring. Was the point of the film to entertain? Was it to inform? Was it to satirize? What was it really trying to say? The dialogue is delightful. In fact, it’s more Sorkin-esque than Sorkin’s own “Trial of the Chicago 7.” But beyond the exuberant noise of witticisms and Gary Oldman’s mumbling speeches, I was left feeling cold, bored, and disappointed that a film (allegedly) about “Citizen Kane” lacked all sense of passion and excitement. It hardly even attempted to convey what made “Kane” such a unique masterpiece to many who don’t understand its significance.

Let’s get one thing straight – “Mank” is not a film about the creative process behind “Citizen Kane.” It’s not interested in the technicalities of filmmaking (though its excessive uses of technical homages provides a sort of irony in that statement), and it’s not interested in giving audiences a greater sense of respect of the themes explored in “Citizen Kane.” Welle’s masterpiece, for many people, doesn’t live up to its designation as the greatest film of all time. It’s easy to appreciate the technical achievements of the film (especially given the limitations of the time period), and the themes are relatively easily understood, but the fascination with the “Rosebud” line and the lack of any emotional hook leaves many audience members feeling confused and cold. “Mank” was a similar experience for me – I was impressed with the set designs, editing, and intricate touches that proved the craftsmanship of the director, but I was hardly compelled by the actual story, nor was I ever emotionally invested in any of the characters or the central conflict. “Mank” produced an interesting dichotomy of feelings for me – it was interesting but not compelling; it was appealing but not engaging; it was intricate yet not perceptive.

“Mank” is a film about politics, corporate interests, elitism, and self-control, which provokes an unfortunate comparison to the very film that it’s (allegedly) trying to highlight. Normally, a film about a film wouldn’t provoke such direct comparisons for me, because the second film doesn’t set out with the same intentions as the first, but in the case of “Mank,” the comparisons are unavoidable. The aesthetic style, the manner of speech and movement, and even much of the editing all mimic those of films in the 1930s and “Citizen Kane.” Immediately, “Mank” feels like an inferior companion piece. They’re also both biographical in nature. “Citizen Kane” is about the life of [the fictional] Charles Foster Kane, and “Mank” is about screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz. Well…then again…is it really about Mankiewicz? Characters seem more interested in talking about elections, socialism, and idealism than anything to do with producing or screenwriting. We get a sense of what Mank’s ideals were but not what his career was like. We’re left not knowing much of anything about his personal life, aside from that he was married and was a struggling alcoholic. Oldman gives a fine performance. He’s pretty surly and comes off as a functioning degenerate. I’m sure he’ll be a shoe-in come Oscar season.

The biggest problem is clearly the screenplay. David Fincher’s father, Jack Fincher, wrote the screenplay before he passed, and you can tell that David sacrificed some creative vision to honor the original words of his father. The screenplay is clearly written by someone who understands how the Hollywood system functioned at the time and who all of the major players were. As an outsider though, I felt very lost at times. I could not remember who some people were, what significance they had to the story, and the worst part was, I hardly cared. Jack’s screenplay provides no emotional hook, provides nothing and no one to be invested in, and makes no effort to provide any insight or highlight compelling traits when it comes to Mank. The story is also told in nonlinear fashion, which adds nothing of value to the experience.

In my opinion, this project would have been much better in the hands of someone like Martin Scorsese. “Mank” just doesn’t play into the strengths of David Fincher, although (like I said previously) the aesthetic is delightful. As usual, Fincher creates a great sense of atmosphere and is extremely meticulous in the framing of all of his scenes, but beyond the technical elements, the rest of the film is just completely hallow. I knew I was not invested in the plot or the characters when, halfway through, I checked to see how much of the film I had left to watch. Yikes!

After the credits rolled, I had hardly a better idea of who Mankiewicz was as a person than when I started. He didn’t seem to be a particularly interesting person, and he certainly wasn’t someone who I felt a connection to based on character traits. He was contractually obligated to write “Citizen Kane.” He had an alcohol problem that impeded his creative process. He had socialist ideals and took particular offense to the hypocrisies that his colleagues partook in the studio system. He took a particular liking towards Marion Davies, though her importance in the story remains vague to me. Amanda Seyfried as Davies is probably the standout performance of the film. She and Oldman actually have good chemistry, and their scenes together provide the only moments of real charm in the film. Their final scene together is incredibly anticlimactic though. That scene should have felt like an emotional gut-punch, but instead it’s one that I can hardly remember. In fact, T-1 day, I can pretty much say that about the whole experience. Honestly, if you’re not a cinephile, don’t waste your time with “Mank.” It’s not dramatic enough to be of any entertainment value, and it’s not informative enough to be of any intellectual interest. The story is entirely trivial.