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Hooray for Hollywood? Hooray for Mank

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The title character in Mank is Herman J. Mankiewicz, prolific screenwriter, prodigious drinker, Algonquin with the kind of man who bites the hand that feeds him so fun that no one cares about the blood. The film is about how Mankiewicz, played by Oldman with lousy and helpless insight, came to write the screenplay for Citizen Kane, the 1941 Orson Welles monument often cited as the greatest film of all time. Whether or not Kane romanticized the life of the newspaper baron William Randolph Hearst the Rupert Murdoch of his time with such venom that everyone felt the bite. Welless’ career has never recovered, nor has Mankiewiczs.

Arliss Howard, center, as Louis B. Mayer, and Charles Dance, right, as William Randolph Hearst, in
Arliss Howard, center, as Louis B. Mayer, and Charles Dance, right, as William Randolph Hearst, in “Mank”. NETFLIX / Associated Press

But that’s all in the future as Mank opens up, shot by Erik Messerschmidt in a gorgeous black and white widescreen (the former is period appropriate, the latter is not but whatever). Mank broke his leg in a car crash and the producer of Kane the youngster John houseman (Sam Troughton), installs the writer in a bungalow away from the Hollywood melee with a private nurse (Monika Gossmann), a private secretary (Lily Collins) and a crate of whiskey mingled at Seconal. He has 90 days to complete the script no, says a Welles (Tom Burke) on the phone, do 60.

Mank switches between writing the first draft called, Simply, American and scenes from Mankiewicz’s heyday in the early 1930s. The Writers’ Room where famous names like George S. Kaufman and Ben Hecht played poker with strippers, the hustle and bustle of the background and the upbeat depravity of men like MGM boss Louis B. Mayer (Arliss Howard) and Hearst himself (Charles Dance), this last reigning at his private theme park in San Simeon with actress-mistress Marion davies (Amanda Seyfried).

Mankiewicz got close enough to Davies and San Simeon to know what he was writing about; he was the kind of court jester who took notes and kept receipts. Much of Mank’s flashbacks involve a progressive disillusionment of the heroes when the author and the socialist Upton sinclair is mounting a credible race for Governor of California and the combined forces of the media and movies turn the news against him. Either way, who needs real news when you have an entire studio to catch up?

If you want to squint the wrong way, Hearst is Murdoch and Mayer is Roger Ailes and the lie, the lies have been sold as news as entertainment, have been made into the cornerstones of the studio. Is this why Mank is writing a screenplay in which the Information Baron is a lost monstrous boy and his mistress friend Manks a sad without talent? It’s not about Marion, Mank tells everyone within earshot as news of Kane’s script spreads throughout town like a stain and pressure mounts against him. But when does taking a stand become personal betrayal, and vice versa?

Lily Collins and Gary Oldman in
Lily Collins and Gary Oldman in “Mank”. NETFLIX / Associated Press

That’s what Mank’s talking about, not Citizen Kane’s writing, not really. Welles barely appears in the film, although the film does not go so far as to claim that Mankiewicz was the true author of Kane, as Pauline Kael once claimed. It remains to be seen if all of this matters to you. Mank is a deep dive into Hollywood history, rich as tiramisu with the kind of jokes and obscure references that delight people who know the lore. Who knows who Irving Thalberg was and how much Mayer hated him; who have heard the rumors about what Rosebud is really named after. Critics will love the film. I i love the movie.

At the same time, Fincher is riding the lore so deeply that casual viewers risk being left out. In the conscious words of the Houseman movies, Youre asks a lot of a movie audience: a mishmash of talkative episodes. Do you need to have seen Citizen Kane to understand Mank? Not really, but a visit to Wikipedia page about its manufacture would probably help. (On the other hand, if you haven’t seen Kane, why are you here?)

Tom Pelphrey makes an impression as Manks’ little brother Joe, still new in town and not yet the director of All About Eve. “Tuppence Middleton is even better as Manks’ wife, Sara aka Poor Sara who loves him despite and because of her brilliant and chatty faults. The best is Seyfrieds Marion Davies, tough and vulnerable, and at the very least , Mank comes across as a long-awaited recovery of a decades-maligned talent.

Gary Oldman as Herman Mankiewicz in
Gary Oldman as Herman Mankiewicz in “Mank”. Gisele Schmidt / Associated Press

Mank’s screenplay was written by the directors father, Jack Fincher, who died in 2003; the project has been around for years, unrealized because Fincher Jr. insisted on filming it in black and white. With its bottomless war chest and thirst for respect, Netflix cheerfully funded the project, and Mank comes at the right time for a time when half the country is still thrilled by the lies of some men who own the media but the other half sees the lies. for what they are: a way to power, profit and control. With Citizen Kane, says Fincher, Mank finally bit hard enough that even the people out there in the dark could smell it, no matter what Welles deserved. the share of credit lions. With Citizen Kane, we have learned to beware of men who say they tell us and sell us the truth. Who had the courage to say such a thing? Just a writer.

MANK

Directed by David Fincher. Written by Jack Fincher. With Gary Oldman, Amanda Seyfried, Charles Dance, Lily Collins. 133 minutes. In Kendall Square. R (a language)


Ty Burr can be contacted at [email protected] Follow him on twitter @tyburr.



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