A long-standing debate over who wrote the Academy Award-winning screenplay for “Citizen Kane” is resurrected in “Mank.”
The film takes the side of Herman J. Mankiewicz, nicknamed “Mank,” who sued to obtain credit for co-writing the screenplay for “Citizen Kane” (1941), a film regarded by many film critics and cinema historians as the greatest film ever made.
“Mank” implies that Mankiewicz (1897-1953) wrote the entire screenplay. “Mank” could be subtitled the Kane mutiny.
“Citizen Kane” director and star Orson Welles (1915-1985) maintained that he rewrote the screenplay several times after Mankiewicz wrote it.
Mankiewicz received an Oscar with “Citizen Kane” director Orson Welles for writing the screenplay for “Citizen Kane.”
“Citizen Kane” is an amalgam of the fictionalized public and private lives of newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst and several other media barons of the 1920s and 1930s.
“Mank” hews to the story about Mankiewicz’s version of writing the screenplay for “Citizen Kane”; the relationship of Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman) with his wife; his rapport and rancor with Hollywood movie studio chiefs, fellow writers and Hearst (Charles Dance), and his conversations with Marion Davies (Allentown’s Amanda Seyfried).
The film seems to faithfully re-create in art direction, production design and costumes the Hollywood studio system and social life of mid to late 1930s/early 1940s Hollywood.
The screenplay by Jack Fincher (1930-2003; who wrote for Readers Digest, Saturday Review and The Smithsonian, and is father of director David Fincher) uses multiple flashbacks, titled as in screenplay format parlance, with some appearing to be flashbacks within flashbacks, creating a perplexing storyline.
We see Herman J. Mankiewicz sequestered with his wife. Sara (Tuppence Middleton) at a Los Angeles area ranch, where he dictates the “Citizen Kane” screenplay to a secretary, Rita (Lily Collins).
“Mank” director David Fincher (Two-time Oscar nominee, director, “The Social Network,” 2010; “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” 2008, and director, “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” 2011; “Gone Girl,” 2014; “Zodiac,” 2007; “Panic Room,” 2002; “Fight Club,” 1999; “Se7en,” 1995; “Alien 3,” 1992; music video director) seems to have concentrated on the look of the film rather than feeling and impact.
Moreover, the number of characters, most of whom are given scant screen time, mucks up the works. The dialogue, too, quippy and scrappy as it is, doesn’t serve the advancement of the story very well.
I was really looking forward to “Mank,” given that it was directed by Fincher, is about old Hollywood and stars Allentown native Amanda Seyfried. Perhaps because of my heightened anticipation, I found the film disappointing. I felt that I was watching a film or a filmed play. Seldom did the film rise to the level of creating emotion. “Mank” is flat, with dreary stretches of monologues and runs too long.
“Mank” is the latest among contemporary movies to be filmed in black and white. Here, too, “Mank” misses the mark.
Black and white cinema offers other advantages for film directors, notably the filming of an actor’s eyes, facial planes and body outlines.
If you’re a fan of Turner Classic Movies on cable television, you probably have noticed this in films such as “Rebecca” (1940, director Alfred Hitchcock), with Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine; “Citizen Kane” (1941, Orson Welles), with Welles and Joseph Cotton; “Casablanca” (1942, director Michael Curtiz), with Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, and “All About Eve” (1950, director Joseph L. Mankiewicz, brother of Herman J. Mankiewicz and Wilkes-Barre natives), in which Bette Davis’ eyes really shine.
Use of black and white cinematography depends on the director’s collaboration with the director of photography and lighting designer, and art and production design staff.
In this, “Mank” leaves much to be desired. Some scenes or portions of scenes are awash in light as to be overexposed. Most scenes are underexposed with the actors’ faces and especially their eyes in shadow.
This is true of Gary Oldman (Oscar recipient, actor, “The Darkest Hour,” 2017; Oscar nominee, actor, “Tinker Soldier Sailor Spy,” 2011), who as Herman J. Mankiewicz captures a boozy brilliance of the screenwriter. Though his eyes are mostly in shadow land, Oldman caterwauls, cajoles and whispers to great effect. He flails his body fearlessly as if a drunkard who feels no pain. Look for an Oscar actor nomination for Oldman.
Amanda Seyfried (“Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again,” 2018; “First Reformed,” 2017; “Les Miserables,” 2012; “Dear John,” 2010; “Mamma Mia!,” 2008; “Mean Girls,” 2004) as actress Marion Davies, purported to be William Randolph Hearst’s mistress, fares much better. The cinematography clearly emphasizes her big eyes and lights her classically beautiful face in a ghostly white. Seyfried sparkles and glows. Look for an Oscar supporting actress nomination for Seyfried.
“Mank” is very much “inside baseball,” and is of chief interest to film buffs, especially those of classic Hollywood movies, and also for Amanda Seyfried fans.
MPAA rated R (Restricted Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian. Contains some adult material. Parents are urged to learn more about the film before taking their young children with them.) for some language; Genre: Biography, Drama; Run time: 2 hr., 11 min.; Distributed by Netflix.
Credit Readers Anonymous:
“Mank” included filming at Kember Campbell Ranch, Victorville, California, where Herman J. Mankiewicz wrote “Citizen Kane.” “Mank” has punch holes in the upper right frame, replicating movie theater reel-change circles for celluloid films.
At the Movies:
“Mank” was seen at Frank Banko Alehouse Cinemas, ArtsQuest Center, SteelStacks, Bethlehem. Face masks, social distancing and prior ticket purchase protocol was observed. See you at the movies.
Movie Box Office,
Nov. 27-29: “The Croods” opened at No. 1, with $9.7 million for the weekend, and $17 million since opening Nov. 25, on 2,211 screens, dropping “Freaky” from No. 1, with $770,000, on 1,735 screens, and $7 million, three weeks.
3. “The War with Grandpa,” starring Allentown’s Oakes Fegley, dropped from No. 2 with $643,937, on 1,500 screens, and $17.2 million, eight weeks. 4. “Let Him Go” dropped from No. 3, with $453,000, on 1,447 screens, and $8.7 million, four weeks. 5. “Come Play,” starring Allentown’s Winslow Fegley, dropped one place, with $387,000, on 1,029 screens, $8.8 million, five weeks. 6. “Honest Thief” stayed in place, $350,000, on 975 screens; $13.5 million, eight weeks. 7. “Elf” stayed in place on the shelf, $320,000, on 683 screens, $783,568, three weeks, 2020 rerelease. 8. “Tenet” stayed in place, $300,000, on 656 screens; $57.4 million, 13 weeks. 9. “The Santa Clause,” $170,000, on 1,090 screens; $706,000, two weeks, 2020 rerelease. 10. “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation,” $170,000, 308 screens; $220,000 since opening Nov. 25. 2020 rerelease.
Box office information is from Box Office Mojo.
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“Love, Weddings & Other Disasters,”
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“All My Life,”
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Movie opening dates are from Internet Movie Database.
Three popcorn boxes out of five popcorn boxes.