Director David Fincher's Mank, Netflix's latest Oscar hopeful, falls short of greatness.
Shot lovingly in black and white, Mank tells the story of alcoholic screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman), who's hired by Orson Welles (Tom Burke) to write the script for Citizen Kane. Mankiewicz makes Kane a thinly veiled portrait of his friend, the newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst (Charles Dance).
Mank is glorious to look at. The cinematography by Erik Messerschmidt and the production design by Donald Graham Burt are outstanding. You definitely feel like you're in 1930s Hollywood.
The film as a whole is uneven. It's at its best when depicting the platonic relationship between Mank and Marion Davies (Amanda Seyfried), Hearst's mistress. Scenes involving studio politics between screenwriters and studio chiefs like Louis B. Mayer (Arliss Howard) are also absorbing. However, the story gets off to a slow start, and the climactic scene when Mank drunkenly interrupts a fancy dinner meanders. Most of the scenes dealing with Mank's alcoholism fail to rise above the standard tortured-alcoholic-artist clichés.
Even though Oldman is a great actor, he's too old for the role. Oldman is 62, and Mank is 43 at his oldest in the film and is in his 30s during the movie's many flashback scenes. It's not as distracting as the terrible CGI de-aging of Robert DeNiro in The Irishman, but it is a noticeable distraction.
That said, Mank still has enough going for it that it's worth a look for Fincher fans and anyone interested in golden-age Hollywood.
Mank is playing at the Prytania Theatres at Canal Place and the Broad before premiering on Netflix in December.
**1/2 Stars (Out of Four)
[Lead image courtesy NETFLIX]