Sunday, 6 December 2020

Film Review: "Mank" (2020).


"Netflix International Pictures Presents" Mank. This biographical drama film directed by David Fincher and written by his late father Jack Fincher. 1930s Hollywood is re-evaluated through the eyes of scathing wit and alcoholic screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz as he races to finish Citizen Kane.

In July 2019, the film was officially announced with Fincher set to direct with a script written by his late father (prior to his death in 2003), and Gary Oldman to star in the title role. During the film's press tour, Fincher shed some light on what many believe to be his most ambitious, unique feature to date. And as Fincher explains to Variety, this also might be the project that has taken the most time to finally see the light of day, but thanks to Netflix, he finally was given the chance to direct the film. It's a project that Fincher has been working on since the early '90s and is based on a script written by his father. And at one point, the film looked like it was going to be made in the '90s, but there was a major snag that put the film back in development hell. According to the report, the '90s version of the film was set up at Polygram, and Fincher had already begun the process of casting. He was hoping to get Kevin Spacey to star as Mankiewicz and Jodie Foster as Marion Davies, the long-time mistress to William Randolph Hearst. Unfortunately, there were issues with Fincher's insistence on shooting in black-and-white that prevented the deal to film to ever get made. Now, more than twenty years later, Netflix is releasing Mank on its streaming platform and didn't balk at the notion of shooting in black-and-white or the price tag that is associated with a Fincher film. The hundred and twenty-page draft of the initial script closely followed a claim voiced by Pauline Kael in her 1971 New Yorker article Raising Kane that Welles did not deserve screenwriting credit. The article angered many critics, including Welles's friend and fellow filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich who rebutted Kael's claims point by point in The Kane Mutiny, an October 1972 article for Esquire. Her argument was discredited by several film scholars through the years, including Robert L. Carringer in his study of The Scripts of Citizen Kane. According to Fincher, Orson Welles is a talented filmmaker, but definitely not a film god like he's often regarded. Speaking to the French outlet, Premiere, Fincher was asked about his thoughts on Welles. This is clearly a question aimed at Fincher because of the film, which details the struggles of Citizen Kane (1941) Mankiewicz during the making of what would become an Academy Award-winning hit. Fincher believes that Welles was above all a showman and a juggler with this immense talent. Fincher went on to say this, "Well, I think Orson Welles's tragedy lies in the mix between monumental talent and filthy immaturity," explained Fincher. "Sure, there is genius in 'Citizen Kane,' who could argue? But when Welles says, 'It only takes an afternoon to learn everything there is to know about cinematography,' ... Let's say that this is the remark of someone who has been lucky to have Gregg Toland around him to prepare the next shot... Gregg Toland, damn it, an insane genius!" He continued, "I say that without wanting to be disrespectful to Welles, I know what I owe him, like I know what I owe Alfred Hitchcock, Ridley Scott, Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, or Hal Ashby. But at twenty-five, you don't know what you don't know. Period. Neither Welles, nor anyone. It doesn't take anything away from him, and especially not his place in the pantheon of those who have influenced entire generations of filmmakers. But to claim that Orson Welles came out of nowhere to make 'Citizen Kane' and that the rest of his filmography was ruined by the interventions of ill-intentioned people, it's not serious, and it is underestimating the disastrous impact of his own delusional hubris." While some might scoff at what Fincher says about Welles, however, in the decades after Citizen Kane, when Welles struggled to live up to the acclaim of his feature debut, there were many that started to wonder how much of the success was due to the filmmaker and how much was due to his talented crew? In Fincher's eyes, that's the real question and points to the fact that Welles might have been talented, but maybe not as talented as he actually believed he was. 

By early November, Amanda Seyfried, Lily Collins, Arliss Howard, Tom Pelphrey, Sam Troughton, Ferdinand Kingsley, Tuppence Middleton, Tom Burke, Joseph Cross, Jamie McShane, Toby Leonard Moore, Bill Nye, and Charles Dance rounded out the film's cast. At the same time, principal photography commenced and wrapped in early February 2020. Filming took place in Los Angeles and Victorville, California, and was shot on RED Ranger Helium Monochrome 8K cameras with Leica Summilux-C Lenses. The film has a monaural sound mix, similar to what films had before the stereophonic sound system was introduced in the mid-twentieth century. This means that instead of multiple soundtracks dedicated to dialogue, music, and other sound effects respectively, all of the aforementioned will be shared on one single track. Fincher discussed in an extensive New York Magazine interview, explaining how the film transports you into the period of Hollywood of the 1930s and early '40s through its visuals and sound design. Fincher states: "Ren Klyce, who is the sound designer, and I started talking years ago about how we wanted to make this feel like it was found in the UCLA archives -- or in Martin Scorsese's basement on its way to restoration," Fincher said. "Everything has been compressed and made to sound like the 1940s. The music has been recorded with older microphones so it has a sort of sizzle and wheeze around the edges -- you get it from strings, but you mostly get it from brass. What you're hearing is a revival house -- an old theater playing a movie." Fincher further mentioned that in screenings so far viewers have reacted to the noticeably vintage sound quality. "It's funny because I've played it for some people who ask, 'What is going on with the sound? It's so warm.' And I respond, 'Well, what you mean when you say 'warm' is it sounds like an old movie. It sounds analog.'" Fincher also added that the process of degrading the sound design dragged the post-production process on longer than expected. "We went three weeks over schedule on the mix trying to figure out how to split that atom," Fincher said. "[Visually,] our notion was we're going to shoot super-high resolution and then we're going to degrade it. So, we took most everything and softened it to an absurd extent to try to match the look of the era. We probably lost two-thirds of the resolution in order to make it have the same feel, and then we put in little scratches and digs and cigarette burns." Another throwback to the Hollywood of yesteryear, the film also features the reel-change circles you'd see throughout an old celluloid print in a movie theater. "We made the soundtrack pop like it does when you do a reel changeover. It's one of the most comforting sounds in my life. They're so little that they're very difficult to hear until you hear them. It has what we ended up calling patina, these tiny little pops and crackles that happen, and they're very beautiful."

The film stars Oldman in the title role, Seyfried, Collins, Howard, Pelphrey, Troughton, Kingsley, Middleton, Burke, Cross, McShane, Moore, Nye, and Dance. The performances of Oldman as Mank and Seyfried as Marion Davies are award-worthy. Collins as Rita Alexander, also gives an impressive performance. Oldman's performance is nothing less than astonishing. He makes every moment believable in voice, walk, and gesture. Even in his drunk scenes is effective. 

Mank is unforgettable and his intense character study is a masterpiece of cinematic sublimity that is rarely, if ever, equalled. The question of whether the twenty-six-year-old Welles is the genius behind the 1941 classic or if it was due to in large part to forty-three-year-old Mankiewicz. This is a great film, any way one looks at it. And it brings to the motion picture industry an exciting new personality - like Welles, Fincher, a man whose talents as director will be acclaimed by audiences far and wide. The film, written by Fincher's late father, a talent who never got his recognition until now, is an outstanding film, amazing in its presentation and vast in its conception. Most people don't care about Kane's revolutionary script but there's so much more to admire, appreciate and enjoy about this cinematic edifice. It proves Mank's reckless genius - as exasperating as it is fascinating - is triumphant in the medium and history of cinema. Mank isn't only a great film but it's a classic for a new era in filmmaking.

Simon says Mank receives:



Also, see my review for Gone Girl.

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