Directed by David Fincher and written by his late father Jack Fincher, Mank is a biopic following legendary Hollywood screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman) as he develops the screenplay to Citizen Kane, flashing back to key moments in his career throughout.
The film opens with a newly bedridden Mankiewicz, who broke his leg in a car accident just as he was meant to start on Orson Welles' (Tom Burke) latest film. This sets the tone for the loose cannon screenwriter's career: effortlessly brilliant yet held back by drama of his own making. David Fincher goes for a time-appropriate black and white film look with writing that feels equally dated. Dialog ricochets sparkily between characters as if Mank himself had penned his own biopic. The film's structure also playfully takes a page out of the writer's work by hopping back and forth between a bedridden Mank in the present and past encounters with the likes of MGM co-founder Louis B. Mayer (Arliss Howard), actress Marion Davies (Amanda Seyfried) and William Randolph Hearst (Charles Dance), who would inspire the character of Charles Foster Kane in Orson Welles' masterpiece.
The film's depiction of old Hollywood has led to comparisons with Tim Burton's Ed Wood but Fincher's film is lot less breezy and fun: Mank is every bit as talky, pompous and distracted as its lead character. While Fincher's visuals, cast and dialog put on a show, almost to the level of the Coen Brothers' Hail, Caesar!, the film itself suffers from a sluggish pace and a plot that takes much too long to become engaging. Unless you already know everything about the events surrounding the making of Citizen Kane and Mankiewicz's career, there's very little to grasp onto here narrative-wise. The parallels with Citizen Kane make things a little more interesting, as do the parts that turn sour for poor old Mank near the end, but this needed to either go all out with the old movie look and feel or drop it altogether in order to focus solely on telling a story worth telling, which there definitely was here.
The talented cast shines here and there, as does the cinematography, but one can't help but feel that David Fincher maybe just wasn't the right director for the job as this Mank biopic is mostly dull and underwhelming when it could have been so much more. Gary Oldman does a good job overall and there is some sharp writing here so it's a shame that the storytelling itself fails to impress.
Not bad, not great either.