Piqua, Ohio, U.S.A. – Hollywood loves making movies about itself. Los Angeles has always had a distinctive position in the American imagination, one of those paradoxical locales for which everything that can be said about it is true. It’s a city built upon telling the lies our country turned into irrevocable truths.
From Raymond Chandler to Quentin Tarantino, Angelinos trying to “make sense” of their hometown has become a cottage industry in and of itself, to mixed results.
For every terrific series – “LA Confidential” and “BoJack Horseman” come to mind – there are a million others like “Gangster Squad” and “Crash” that try to use LA as a basis to tell a greater truth about humanity, but prove too incompetent or self-indulgent to succeed.
Disappointingly, Mank falls into the latter category.
Directed by David Fincher and based on a screenplay written by his now-deceased father, “Mank” was expected to be the sleeper hit of the year, with many already calling it the ‘definitive’ Fincher film before it was even released.
The final product proved less remarkable. By no means is this movie bad. Rather, it’s a film which – in fragmented, scattershot moments – has flashes of brilliance, interspersed between long stretches of tedium and redundancy.
I enjoyed many elements of this film, and the viewing experience wasn’t demonstrably awful.
But I expected more and was left unfulfilled when the credits rolled.
The film’s plot is based around one of the greatest stories of old Hollywood – the making of Citizen Kane, considered by many to be the pinnacle of what cinema can achieve.
Orson Welles [played here as an egomaniacal and vindictive boy genius by Tom Burke] has just been given one of the best contracts in film history by RKO Pictures, giving him free range to undertake any project he wants.
He decides to skewer one of America’s sacred cows – specifically William Randolph Hearst, the feared newspaper tycoon [played with quiet menace by Charles Dance].
In this undertaking, Welles enlists Herman Mankiewicz [Gary Oldman]. The titular “Mank,” he is witty, whiskey-soaked and cynical.
Oldman’s character is the highest paid screenwriter in Hollywood, with a personal connection to Hearst through his mistress Marion Davies [played with screwball charm by Amanda Seyfried.
With revenge and wealth swirling in his mind, Oldman’s Mankiewicz takes the job, but the studios, the director, and his conscience get in the way.
Mank’s screenplay is its strongest asset, filled with wordplay and sardonic humor that would make Mankiewicz proud.
The art direction is another strong point. Steeped in black and white – and utilizing archaic sound design – a casual viewer may think they’re watching a long-forgotten RKO production.
Political commentary through the inclusion of Upton Sinclair’s gubernatorial campaign and the ensuing smears against him, while beguiling, is also welcome.
Beyond that, due to a meandering plot, 50/50 performances and a disappointing ending, Mank is a movie Fincher will no doubt consider his rosebud.
Zurie Pope is a Reporter with Youth Journalism International.