Home Film ‘Mank’ Review – David Fincher’s Rapturous Look at Hollywood’s Golden-Age

‘Mank’ Review – David Fincher’s Rapturous Look at Hollywood’s Golden-Age

by Ben Rolph
Gary Oldman as Herman J. Mankiewicz looking confused with numbers floating around him as seen in Mank

Classical in every way possible, Mank is the closest piece of modern cinema we may ever get to that of the 30s and 40s. Photographed in ‘Hi-Dynamic Range’, graded with the most beautiful blacks, whites, and greys, it’s a lusciously wonderful film. Presently, films often struggle to get all the little elements right of their set period, an example of perfection is Once Upon a Time in Hollywood‘s depiction of the hippish 60s. Likewise, Mank gets everything right. Fincher has plunged us back in time; it’s a spellbinding, rapturous take on Hollywood’s golden-age and it’s almost as if Mankiewicz himself, or Welles, had made the picture.

At the of age of 24, Orson Welles began making his first Hollywood feature with RKO Pictures and screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman). We follow Mank as he delves into a delirious phase of reflective, drunken writing. While isolated and given a Christmas deadline to write Welles’ screenplay, his assistant Rita Alexander (Lily Collins) and himself begin the long and winding trek to producing the basis for Citizen Kane, now known as one of the best films ever made.

David Fincher’s eye for Classical Hollywood is incredibly pristine. The film was shot digitally and filmed on an aspect ratio of 2:39:1; these differences seem right for Fincher’s aesthetic, although not completely true to the time. Mank proves to be a neat mix of classical techniques mixed with a healthy dose of Fincher-like updates. The film’s transportation back to the golden-age is certainly down to the accents, cinematography, music, edits, and all the actor’s actions – everything is perfect.

Gary Oldman as Herman J. Mankiewicz pointing his finger at a grand dinner table as seen in Mank.
Gary Oldman in “Mank’ courtesy of Netflix

Universal praise must be given for all involved. It’s a sleek, seamless dive into a neglected period in cinema. For cinema lovers, the golden-age is a treasure, but for modern audiences something so old is looked down upon. “It’s not in color? No thank you!” On the other hand, Mank is the answer to all who ask, “Why did the golden-age have to go away? I wish films were still made like this.” Spectating Mank, it feels like you’re sucked into a whirlwind, or perhaps, a trance of cinematic luxuries. Magical in every way, the mastery of creating a pitch-perfect kind of flashback to a time long gone by is almost miracle work.

Removing all modernizations, excluding the 2:39:1 framing, Mank has a harmonious filmmaking palette with awe-inspiring looks and sounds. Fincher would not have anything bar perfection, hence the witty, whip-sharp pace that Mank shuffles along with. Tone and feel-wise, the ‘Screwball comedy’ comes to mind. The term gives the impression of something non-sophisticated and kind of rubbish, yet it means the complete opposite. It relates to the sophisticated act of comedy with strong class critiques, while being hopeful in themes. It seems Jack Fincher (David’s own late father) wrote the film to reflect such a period in Hollywood cinema. From the 30s up to 1942, the year that film scholars acknowledge as the end of Screwball comedy, is the exact time the film is set. As Citizen Kane comes out a bit after in 1941, Mank‘s story predates its release and is smack-bang in the middle of that Screwball era.

Gary Oldman, Lily Collins, Amanda Seyfried, Tom Pelphrey, Arliss Howard, Charles Dance, and Tom Burke are among its extensive cast who all equally deliver the finest performances of the year. The razer-sharp edge of how every word is muttered, to the actions that emulate how people used to act – it’s a never-ending feat of wonder. Your mouth drops at the realization that these people were not around at the time, because they certainly feel like those seen in Hollywood’s golden-age. The film’s silvery monochrome work alongside this; the style of Erik Messerschmidt’s cinematography accentuates the feel. Beaming, back-lit lights add to the softened image, while its noir-like tendencies shine as light hits half-shuttered curtains, breaking up the room with chiaroscuro effects.

Amanda Seyfried looking stunning as Marion Davis in a white dancing costume as seen in Mank.
Amanda Seyfried in ‘Mank’ courtesy of Netflix

Whether it be wondering around the MGM studio lot, meeting Louis B. Mayer (Howard), chumming around with Marion Davies (Seyfried), discussing Warner’s 42nd Street, or collaborating via telephone with the mysterious Orson Welles (Burke), all of Mank‘s interactions are to be treasured. Fincher’s film is full of such detail, it’s a romp of a time. “I know you! We met at John Gilbert’s birthday. You’re Herman Mankiewicz!”, such lines are scattered through every frame. In adapting his father’s script, Fincher brings vital life and energy. It really has a feel to its own when put against the rest of the director’s superb filmography. All the wit-filled interactions, paired with Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ old-school Hollywood score, evoke the true essence of Mank‘s traditional attributes.

Mank is an endlessly sumptuous wade into the depths of Hollywood’s golden-age. A film about a film, Fincher’s love of cinema is vividly clear and this is bound to be a cinema lover’s definition of what’s so engaging about the act of watching films. It’s a transfixing look and gaze into the inner workings of Hollywood’s classical studio system that proves to be utterly transfixing. Truthfully, it’s hard to explain what works best, but in a good way. It all amounts to a film that will leave you speechless, in absolute awe.

★★★★★

Mank premieres on Netflix December 4 with a limited theatrical run starting November 13!

Follow Senior Film Critic Ben Rolph on Twitter: @THEDCTVSHOW

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