Sigh. If there was one movie coming out in 2020 that I expected to be excellent, it was David Fincher’s “Mank.” The film comes out in December for Netflix watchers, but a few theaters had early access to see it as early as Nov. 13. I went to go see it on Nov. 15 in the strange land of New Jersey. I was insistent on seeing “Mank” as early as possible. It was also my birthday weekend, so I was ready for an adventure.
All the pieces lined up perfectly for “Mank” to be awesome. The venue in which I watched it was exotic and exciting. The film itself was stylish and the subject matter was relevant to me and to film history. The titular character is Herman Mankiewicz, who was raised in Wilkes-Barre and wrote “Citizen Kane,” perhaps the greatest film ever made. Mankiewicz is played in the film by Gary Oldman, a living giant of the acting craft, and he plays off of Amanda Seyfried in a role more nuanced than what she typically takes on. The score is by Trent Reznor, of Nine Inch Nails fame, and his longtime collaborator, Atticus Ross. And to top it off, the film is directed by David Fincher, a stock pick for best director currently in his prime, and the man behind “The Social Network,” “Fight Club” and “Seven.” This could not go wrong.
To be fair, “Mank” doesn’t go wrong, but I don’t think it goes right, either. It isn’t very entertaining, which is not what one would expect from this particular crew. It is definitely stylish, but I don’t know if there’s much to say to the substance in anything that happens in the film. We’re presented with characters who strike me more as mouthpieces for ideologies and worldviews. That, on the surface, isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as I do appreciate a movie that cares about themes and thoughts, especially when expressed through more than just dialogue.
Unexpectedly, “Mank” is a film that often circles back around to social class, which is rich since every major character in the film is annoyingly wealthy. The dialogue is witty, for sure, but not very natural. Everyone talks like a poet, which I think would work in a more abstract piece. Though Mankiewicz is a writer, he was also a drunk who could barely stay on his feet at times. From personal experience, I can tell you that it’s not simple to spout off brilliant musings regarding society’s true puppet masters while you’re stumble drunk.
In other words, dialogue alone does not make character, especially when the dialogue sounds like a copy and pasted version of a textbook rather than a natural interpretation of said textbook.
In other other words, it seems that “Mank” needed a good rewrite, probably from David Fincher himself. I can see why he didn’t, being that it was his late father, Jack Fincher, who wrote the script. What a difficult position it must have been to navigate your father’s screenplay after he’s passed, trying to balance honoring your dad and making a great film. As it stands, the writing is a little too academic and doesn’t have a lot of heart. It’s kind of boring, truthfully.
I would have preferred to see a grittier version of Mankiewicz, one less refined and restricted by perfectly phrased but awfully distant dialogue. In the end, “Mank” is a charming viewing experience, but one also devoid of any real emotional kick to anyone not in Hollywood’s realm. Why should anyone care? That’s the first rule of storytelling. If you can’t answer that, your work will fade from memory fast.
Sam Zavada is a copy editor with The Standard-Speaker in Hazleton. He previously served as the news clerk at The Standard-Speaker, working with the obituaries and the community and lifestyle pages. Sam’s work in print dates back to his time at King’s College, where he spent two years as the editor in chief of the school’s newspaper, The Crown. Earlier in his time with The Crown, he worked as a staff writer and the entertainment manager. Contact him at email@example.com.