Cast: Gary Oldman, Amanda Seyfried, Lily Collins
Director: David Fincher
David Fincher – known for his psychological thrillers like Zodiac, Gone Girl and Panic Room, in addition to The Curious Case of Benjamin Button outside this genre – is directing an extremely nostalgic film this time, Mank. About a 1930s Hollywood living in the terrifying times of World War II and the debilitating Depression, Fincher’s creation based on a screenplay by his father, Jack (written long ago) is a back-and-forth tale of a tinsel town that is carefully from a world of silent cinema into a world of cacophonous sounds. In a way, Mank reminded me of Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time In Hollywood, which while touted as a story by Sharon Tate, wife of Roman Polanski, was mainly about the advent of television and the jitters it caused in theaters. .
Coincidentally, the cinema industry is also in disarray these days, given the destructive Coronavirus pandemic. Hundreds of men and women who work in showbiz have lost their livelihood and Mank features MGM’s Louis Mayer (played by Arliss Howard) begging his employees for a pay cut. I don’t want to fire any of you, he says, offering to repay their full salaries in eight weeks. It will be over in a minute, he adds to cheer the workers on.
Things aren’t that easy or simple these days, but, well, Mank is actually about how Herman J. Mankiewicz aka Mank (Gary Oldman) wrote the script for a movie considered to be the ultimate movie – Citizen Kane. Aided by Orson Welles (Tom Burke only gets a cameo), it’s sort of a bible for writers and directors even today. However, despite several Oscar nominations, it only won a single trophy, Best Original Screenplay, which was shared by Mank and Welles.
A true ode to a Hollywood that once was with gigantic studios and their heads, which were true mughuls of cinema, Mank, now streamed on Netflix, is almost art in black and white, and the story pushes us to a tight deadline that is Mank given to write Citizen Kane. With his leg in plaster from a car accident and struggling with a drinking problem, Mank dictates the script to his secretary, Rita Alexander (Lilly Collins) – and she has a great time keeping the writer off the booze and, well , write!
This is the crux of the plot, which is enriched by a lot of Hollywood events – bickering, denial of credit to writers (we don’t know that in India) and rivalry between studios. In between all this are the hotly contested US presidential election (Mank gets another point here because he started at a time when we saw the big battle between Biden and Trump).
Attractively photographed and impressively edited, Mank also stands out for Oldman’s brilliant performance. He is utterly convincing, and his heartless arrogance costs him just about everything. He’s irreverent to the core, and so damn undisciplined. Would anyone, anyone tolerate this today? Hollywood was actually nice to him.
However, Mank will only appeal to a niche audience; those who have any idea who Mayer was or for example Irving Thalberg. And very, very few would have even heard of Mank.
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