Excellent period film about a writer in turbulent times

Last Updated 25 December 2020, 19:04 IST

Mank (Netflix)

Cast: Gary Oldman, Lily Collins, Amanda Seyfried

Director: David Fincher

Rating: 4/5

‘You cannot capture a man’s entire life in two hours — all you can hope to leave is the impression of one,’ says Herman J. Mankiewicz, veteran Hollywood screenwriter and washed-up alcoholic, in David Fincher’s latest film, Mank. Mankiewicz or ‘Mank’ is referring to his screenplay for Citizen Kane (1941), a Shakespearean tragedy about the rise and fall of a wealthy newspaper publisher, inspired primarily, and controversially, by the real-life American media tycoon, William Randolph Heart.

One usually associates Citizen Kane, which won the Oscar for Best Screenplay, with the singular genius of Orson Welles. In 'Mank', Fincher tells the fascinating, secret history of how Welles tapped the once-legendary screenwriter to come up with the script in 60 days, stationing him in a house in the desert with a nurse and stenographer. Gary Oldman is superlative in the lead role, chasing an impossible deadline, coming to terms with failure and risking his already tanking reputation to take on an all-powerful media magnate. Also at stake is his friendship with the actor Marion Davies, Hearst’s girlfriend, played equally brilliantly by Amanda Seyfried.

Mank’s initial agreement with Welles was to write the script without credit. But things change as he ultimately turns in a masterpiece. Shot in gorgeous black-and-white, mirroring the aesthetics of Citizen Kane, and with a soundtrack using only period-authentic instruments, 'Mank' has all the ritz and charm of old Hollywood. Moreover, it is an emotionally compelling journey through life and politics in tinsel-town California, just as the Silent Era was making way for the ‘Talkies’.

Mank writes in 1940, while flashbacks take us through post-Depression Hollywood: workers getting their salaries cut as studio owners invoke sacrifice and family, and tycoons like Hearst dismiss the threat of fascism in Europe while funding smear campaigns against politicians fighting for the rights of the poor and wealth redistribution. At its core, the film is about a writer who witnesses the powerful and the rich wielding influence to hold on to their power — as the world crumbles around them — and he can only be the court jester, mocking their hypocrisy and corruption.

'Mank' is the perfect Christmas flick not just for film buffs, but even those unfamiliar with the aura of Citizen Kane. Like most good cinema, its transports the audience to a romantic, bygone era, yet whose turbulent politics rings eerily familiar even today.

(Published 25 December 2020, 19:04 IST)

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