David Fincher is back — and bows to the classic film “Citizen Kane” on Netflix. However, we reveal in our review why MANK is more than just a homage.
The plot summary
The year is 1940: Screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman) is holed up on a remote ranch in the Mojave Desert. Although he is dependent on crutches after an accident and has long been plagued by alcohol addiction, he has immensely busy weeks ahead of him: within just 60 days he is supposed to write the script for Orson Welles’ (Tom Burke) directorial debut. The radio prodigy received a lucrative Hollywood deal and has free artistic conduct. He takes advantage of this by commissioning the argumentative Mankiewicz to write the script. Mankiewicz, while being cared for by German nurse Freda (Monika Gossmann), develops a tome of a script, which he dictates to British typist Rita (Lily Collins).
Mank, as everyone calls him, accurately imagines a film about a rich, heartless newspaper tycoon who callously controls politics. The inspiration is obvious: William Randolph Hearst (Charles Dance), whom Mankiewicz met in 1930, with whom he became friends despite some differences and with whom he ultimately fell out after turbulent years. “Citizen Kane” becomes Mank’s very personal reckoning with Hearst. As well as a collection of memories of encounters with studio heads and with the actress/Hearst lover Marion Davies (Amanda Seyfried)… and a critical examination of oneself.
Mank Movie Meaning & ending
It is quite strange how the fictionalized versions of “old Hollywood” of the studio system era are coming together on Netflix in 2020. In addition to the literally fabulous Ryan Murphy miniseries “Hollywood,” the drama “Curtiz” celebrated its USA premiere on the video-on-demand service in the first half of 2020. In this Hungarian film production (which celebrated its world premiere in 2018), Tamás Yvan Topolánszky addresses the creation of the legendary film classic “Casablanca”. And now Netflix is submitting the new work by David Fincher, who last directed the film “Gone Girl” six years ago. His drama “Mank” goes a little further back in time than “Hollywood” (Murphy’s series takes place shortly after the Second World War) and “Curtiz”: Fincher deals with the writing process of Orson Welles’ influential directorial debut “Citizen Kane.” “, which for a long time topped virtually every serious poll for the best film in history. Alfred Hitchcock’s “Vertigo” now has a similarly reliable subscription to this superlative title, but that doesn’t make the development of the “Citizen Kane” story (as well as the events that inspired the plot) any less relevant for today. Just as it’s hard to deny a certain irony in the emergence of detailed discussions of “golden” Hollywood on Netflix.
After all, Netflix is the world’s leading streaming platform with the lowest proportion of films older than 40 years. And the fact that several hymns of praise for brilliant achievements in cinema history are immediately debuting on Netflix is very bizarre, given that the streaming service and the cinemas have not been at all green for years. Because instead of honoring classic theatrical release windows, Netflix made it clear early on that it wanted to put its own productions online at the same time as the (hypothetical) theatrical release. An intolerable demand for the cinemas, which the streaming giant therefore left behind. Netflix only moved away from its position when it had fictional projects in hand that it believed had serious chances at major film awards. Since then, these films have been given an alibi theatrical release in order to bargain for prestige and, if necessary, to qualify for these awards in the first place. A “savior of the cinemas” looks different. Nevertheless, the decision-makers in Netflix’s film division have a genuine fascination for Orson Welles — in 2018, Netflix ensured that Welles’ unfinished, experimental directorial work “The Other Side of the Wind” was completed and released posthumously after a wait of over 30 years. In addition, Netflix dedicated an exciting documentary to this process and Welles’ later years of his career and life with “They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead”.
Furthermore, in times when mid-budget films are becoming a rarity in cinemas, Netflix has become a very popular contact point for directors who want to continue to work with precisely these materials. And finally: Without Netflix and other streaming services, we would have only been able to enjoy very few new films in 2020 given the corona pandemic. In short: everything is a little more complicated and nuanced than expected. What is the key phrase to describe the essence of “Mank”. Fincher’s latest film revolves around the more difficult-to-summarize story behind the legendary surface on several levels.
Rich in facets — not just the retold story of the origins of a classic
“Mank” first deals with the writing process of “Citizen Kane.” The cinematic milestone from 1941 is all about a reporter who goes looking for clues in the life of the recently deceased newspaper magnate Charles Foster Kane. Dangerous half-knowledge has anchored the thesis in pop culture memory that the film is a single satirical attack on media baron William Randolph Hearst — and many a film reference book simply presents it as such. However, it is not only recorded that both Welles and screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz worked on other people of her time, it is also written that the film was intended as a general, tragically biting reckoning with the myth of the American dream — and not just as a cinematic roman à clef about certain individual cases. And even those who decide to ignore any research material based on the cultural technique of “death of the author” should realize that “Citizen Kane” is more than a bitter, warning criticism of imperialist-inclined corporate tycoons. Over the course of “Citizen Kane”, Kane’s life is illuminated through the prism of numerous companions and contemporary witnesses — and practically everyone who gives assessments to the journalist Jederdiah Leland, played by Joseph Cotten, has different interpretations of who Kane was inside. And in all the criticism of his escapades, his lust for power and his machinations, there is repeated sympathy, empathy or at least human regret for his fate. It should also not be forgotten that Leland appears in “Citizen Kane” as Kane’s friend.
These barbs, these small complications within the film “Citizen Kane”, also permeate the reception of the film, which is characterized by false generalizations. For a long time, Welles was portrayed by film writers as a child prodigy who was at the height of his creativity when he made his debut — and was then tirelessly crushed by the studio system. Or, one asks later film historians, he was a genius who stumbled over his own arrogance. Or he was a bigot with talent who once hit the mark. The truth was most likely much more complicated — and the urban myth that Welles ended up like Kane cannot be corrected often enough in biographies of the director. Likewise, there cannot be enough evidence that Welles did not write the film alone. What’s more, his co-author Herman J. Mankiewicz was only too happy to note that he would have written the script without Welles. Film historians paid no attention to it for decades. And when Pauline Kael swam against the tide in an essay in 1971 and described Mankiewicz as the genius behind the script, she even became an object of hatred from her (especially male) colleagues. The obsession with creating monolithic idols has now subsided — and now Kael’s perspective is heard much more widely than it was back then…
At the beginning of “Mank,” the film sets out to further echo this “you have to look closer” and “the perspective can change” theme. Because in the first act, director David Fincher visually and screenwriter Jack Fincher (David Fincher’s father, who died in 2003, who wrote this script in the 1990s) create numerous narrative parallels to “Citizen Kane”. Overall, they are much more than just “Look, I chose the same camera angle/word order” gimmicks — even if you might think they are at first glance. But taken as a whole, they initially suggest the possibility of interpretation that “Mank” is about Herman J. Mankiewicz primarily inserting himself into the character Kane when writing the script: Mankiewicz is mentally weakened, physically paralyzed and miles away during the writing process removed from its former reputation. Just like the late Kane.
Before this “Oh, so that’s what ‘Mank’ is about!” interpretation approach can solidify, “Mank” takes a new path and increasingly shows situations in flashbacks in which Mankiewicz is in the dark as an idealistic youngster (in spirit). by Hearst, studio boss Louis B. Mayer and other powerful people. There are passages in which Mank turns up his nose at their worldview and political influence, and in which he complains or shows off those in power several times — but he has less success with his headwinds than he would like. He and a confidant even get their hands dirty with an eye-rolling odd job — with the thought that their actions won’t tip the scales. In these “Mank” film passages, the hypothesis is now raised that Mankiewicz, among other things, created the reporter Jederdiah Leland as a kind of “better, fictionalized self”.
Even minor characters in “Mank” go through such “it’s more complicated” realizations and/or become the focus of them. Tom Burke plays Orson Welles as a self-absorbed prankster — with a more consistent attitude than Mank. And as the poor idiot who has to condense Mank’s extravagant script into film form and implement it coherently. The typist Rita, played by Lily Collins (“Inheritance”), initially a dutiful, strict person who sometimes literally pierces Mankiewicz with her gaze, is later told by his nurse how kind-hearted and helpful the crass, self-centered, rowdy artist is . Whereupon Rita becomes more patient in dealing with him.
Mank’s wife Sara, on the other hand, is played by Tuppence Middleton (“Black Mirror”) with reserved, modest elegance and an equally fascinated and subtly frustrated look in such a way that she appears to be written in a uniform manner. Possibly even like a monotone, one-dimensional figure. But if you think about Sara’s character profile and the dynamic between her and her husband for just a second longer, she is almost an enigma — every sequence with Sara changes the signs, whether she is a loving wife or a cuckolded wife who is not realizes how little she is respected. Or a woman who knows exactly how much love has disappeared from her marriage and is now making the best of it. Or a nature that leans back and relaxes, watching with amusement the madness that tends to invade her life with her husband, his job and his interactions. Or, or… Whether Sara changes between the film’s numerous flashback vignettes or appears differently in the individual sequences simply because of the shifted narrative center point remains a question of interpretation. Kane sends greetings again.
So how amazing is it that even individual sentences in “Mank” always find themselves in a new context? The script is full of recurring verbal bon mots, but they have a completely different effect depending on the situation. And that’s not all: the game can be taken even further, because with “Mank” David Fincher has not only created a film that is about the making of a legendary film, while pointing out at every opportunity that events and personalities are more multifaceted are more than you would think at first. Because, just like “Citizen Kane”, “Mank” has a component in which this “you have to look at it from a more friendly position” relativization is completely abandoned. “Citizen Kane” may have partially humanized its title character — but her actions (such as manipulating media coverage for one’s own advantage) were unambiguously denounced. Likewise, “Mank” takes no prisoners when it comes to depicting the political abysses in Hollywood/California in the 1930s and 1940s — which are strikingly reminiscent of today’s political problems.
Particularly engaging is a sequence in which Fincher describes a celebratory banquet in the mid-1930s, in which Hollywood’s glitter-and-glamor elite leaned back with pleasure and, while drinking, talked about how Germany was wallowing in anti-Semitism and the first reports of concentration camps had emerged are. Convinced Republicans at this party laugh off the more concerned voices in their environment — they shouldn’t intervene, the problem will solve itself. Especially since it would be harmful for business to take action against USA — after all, it is a big market!
In another sequence, Fincher shows, less frighteningly and more with a satirical bite (but no less urgent), how the Republicans manage to portray the Democrats as communists by vehemently shifting the political discourse and using propaganda with a news look (Fox News gives a mild nod). and to arouse fears among the people that are not based on any facts. All of this is described as the inspiration for the desolate, satirical passages of “Citizen Kane”. At the same time, Fincher demonstrates with “Mank” that many of the worst political facets of modern America are not new problems, but rather their roots lie deep in the past — and that concerns about a shift to the right, social coldness and the loss of relevant information in a flood of dumb mass communication are timeless. Meanwhile, Mank’s annoyances about a Hollywood with few options (either you get along with one of the three important studio bosses Jack Warner, Darryl Zanuck and Louis B. Mayer, or you’re out), in which every studio has its own established preferences, noticeably clash with Fincher’s own Situation as a filmmaker.
Personally colored, and yet not Fincheresque?
Although “Mank” has repeatedly been described as David Fincher’s most personal film (and, as a late adaptation of a screenplay by his late father, it is very likely to be so), stylistically it is not particularly Fincheresque. Unlike Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”, another very personal film by a well-known director that takes place in a bygone Hollywood era, Fincher’s examination of the film art form is not chock-full of his trademarks. The cast of “Mank” has already revealed in interviews that Fincher has once again lived up to his reputation as a director who demands dozens and even over 100 takes. But unlike “Social Network,” his previous fictionalized retelling of true events, “Mank” is a pure drama, rather than one that incorporates Fincher’s trademark thriller sensibilities. And where Fincher usually keeps his audience at an arm’s length from his characters, this time he shows a comparatively great deal of warmth — both in terms of imagery and in the way he allows his cast to put on the characters:
Above all, “Mamma Mia!” star Amanda Seyfried, as Marion Davies, gives “Mank” a warm, light-hearted warmth that is rarely felt elsewhere in Fincher. She plays the former actress, who is now Hearst’s full-time lover, as a colorful personality who takes advantage of the fact that (almost) everyone brutally underestimates her intellectually. With playful ease, Marion distributes deep digs, expresses precise political analyzes with wide eyes and an ironic baby pout, and makes fun of her partner with lovingly expressed, yet highly teasing sarcasm. In this role, Seyfried not only conveys an irrepressible energy, but also radiates charm, verve and smart wit, which makes Marion Davies an equally fascinating and multifaceted person. Her flirtatious interaction with the title character even has the air of a screwball rapport, although there is clearly a respectful distance between them, so that their dialogues never seem like flirtations — even when an idyllic walk through a zoo is staged in an extremely comfortable way. Gary Oldman particularly thrives in these rapid-fire scenes with Seyfried, but is also award-worthy throughout the rest of the film as Herman J. Mankiewicz. The “Darkest Hour” mime is simply made for this grumpy, internally seething, highly sarcastic and yet (at times) idealistic role of the smart, but also snobbish screenwriter full of fire and remorse — you tend to overlook the fact that, strictly speaking, Oldman is about two decades too old for the part.
The “Gone Girl” composer duo Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross (“Mid90s”) accompanies all of this with a score that could have come exactly from the era in which “Mank” is set. Recorded specifically with historically accurate material to create the appropriate flair, the “Mank” score is primarily jazzy and up-tempo, while individual scenes have the booming, slightly clattering sound of a small 1930s film orchestra that subjectively accompanies the feelings of the central characters. And the film’s mono sound mix is of course less dynamic than today’s sound standards, but it has a tonal power within it and ensures an acoustic unification of all impressions — which means that this is not only a nostalgic gimmick, but also an interesting, additional one to the basic theme of the film gives facet.
In terms of image aesthetics, Fincher and cameraman Erik Messerschmidt (“Mindhunter”) are now attempting a balancing act: “Mank” was shot with the Monstro Monochrome, a modern black-and-white film camera. Because of this, and because the film was consistently lit and equipped for black and white, Fincher and Messerschmidt achieve clearer, more appealing images than many films shot in color that only became black and white films in post-production (such as Alexander Payne’s “Nebraska” ), in which the monochrome image expresses a depressing mood. Mank”, with its black and white look, is primarily a visual feast for Old Hollywood nostalgics, but the cheerful play of light and shadow, the range in which shades the stylish clothing and the winding locations shine, and the Clear lines in Fincher’s imagery are likely to be appealing even without this “positive background”. Nevertheless, Fincher chose a modern, ultra-wide image format of 2.20:1 instead of imitating the classic 1.37:1 image from “Citizen Kane”. And even without color, the Monstro Monochrome remains a state-of-the-art digital camera, giving its image a slightly icy clarity in many scenes where historically accurate camera equipment would have sometimes caused a fluffy, warm blur.
Whether Fincher was inconsistent in these decisions or whether he turned “Mank” from a pure imitation into a film that can also be recognized in its visual aesthetics as a reflection of the past that imitates his model, but is still rooted in today, remains to be seen position to be discussed. But whether consciously or unconsciously: The fact that Fincher creates a warm and inviting looking black and white film in 2020, even though this aesthetic has been used for depressing connotations since “Schindler’s List” at the latest, and still gives it a touch of digital coldness and clarity, Let’s say again: It’s all a bit more complicated…
Conclusion: “Mank” initially seems simply like a detailed nod to “Citizen Kane” and its creation process. But David Fincher’s drama is also a passionate commentary on how complex (and sometimes shockingly simple) situations and people can be.
“Mank” will be available to stream on Netflix from December 4, 2020.