Mank ★★★

I think I like this far more than the detractors without find it more than a pale version of Fincher usual cynical amusement ride. It is a movie about how creation is shaped by its surroundings and social forces that suffers for the fact that it has no time to show any actual work going into it. As a Welles-head I could go without the final few minutes (go read Robert Carringher essay on the script on Neremore's Citizen Kane a Casebook, and given there's no libraries around, don't feel guilty to use Libgen), but it is indeed true that he hired Mankiewicz as a ghostwriter and wasn't happy when he asked for credit, so that's hardly the most ahistorical part of this movie, the main problem is that giving that showing actual work been made into making the film is beneath Mank, the juicy gossip is the only thing it can dramatize. People will keep connecting Mank to Kael's essay, but at heart this is the anti-Raising Kane, Kael's bad faith polemic was about elevating the Hollywood hack over the boy wonder as far as "the best movie ever made" authorship as a way to praise the genius of the system, Kane as the peak of the old studio system assembly line. Mank believes there's no genius towards the system (that way of thinking own boy wonder Thalberg is far more the villain of the piece and gets trashed repeatedly), instead the system only offers empty fireworks and soul crushing. It is a very contemporary movie that only cares for old Hollywood as mythic source of stories, a barbaric past ready to be pilllaged for good tall tales. One of the movie's main limitations is that the surface pastiche Fincher put so much care on feels suspended in a nowhere place, it is neither a good approximation (both light and set design feels very off for that) nor really good commentary on period instead it comes off like what someone with infinite resources who never saw an actual 30s/40s film might come up with, which I know isn't true of Fincher, but that's what obsessed ahistorical images hint at. The other main limitation is that this is structured as a biopic but isn't one. Mankiewicz really is more like Thompson the reporter than he is a bopic lead, he is a conduit, or more precise a worldview over 30s Hollywood, caustic misanthropic full of self-hatred (not very far off of the one one gets in any other Fincher movie to be fair), a walking perspectivbe more than a character. So Mank is strange shapeless and inert, most of the 1940 scenes are nothing (poor Lilly Collins might had the most thankless job of any 2020 Hollywood performer), the Welles showdown in the end a very weak climax (the movie isn't about that), it only comes alive in 1940 when ghosts from the past come visit, at least the ones with brother Joe and Davies (the one with Mankiewicz's wife is flat because again this isn't a biopic and his failings as a husband don't register) as they are very specific about past not present. The film is at its very best in the Upton Sinclair subplot and the many scenes between Mankiewicz and Davies which have a warm the remaining film lacks. It is the parts of the movie that feel fully dramatized, the election plot is very 2020 (fake news! fear the socialists!) and gives Fincher ample opportunity to talk about the relationship between political forces and image-making that is really at the center here. The Davies scenes have some actual human element benefiting from Seyfried giving by far the movie's best performance even if Fincher conception of Davies as some sort of long suffering hostage of that world of power feel very reductive (that said I do hope Mank helps rescue some of her reputation). Mank keeps returning to political maneuvering of one form or another almost always seen through lens of spectacle and performance. What matters is how Citizen Kane come from the disappointments and fears of 30s politics, It is a shame that Mankiewicz is such an impeerfect conduit for such take as there is few things more dull and annoying than a class guilt leftist drunk, so it never quite get over its lack of center. The film is fully excited whenever its allowed to dig on how old Hollywood help shape a conservative response of times and suggest how Kane (and by extense the very contemporary movie we are watching) as an answer to it) Fincher sense of humor enliven a lot of those passages (ands he remains very sharp satirist of privileged demeanor) and Mank the character works when he is just a delivery machine for Fincher's worldview. Speaking of politics, another main problem here is Hearst or more precise his absence, of course Charles Dance is there doing that stern evil powerful old man number he perfected in Game of Thrones and has been cashing checks on the past few years, but he is an image more than a part, an idea of corrupted power. He is supposed to be everything poisoned of 30s American society that Kane will answer to, but he barely registers, indeed it is telling that the one that actual is positioned against Mankiewicz is neither Hearst nor Howard's Meyer, a deluded fool, but Thalberg the class betrayer ready to execute the other two men misdeeds, a gangster henchmen with good manners, very well played and imagined, but that so much is concentrated on him reveals this film failure of nerve, how its anger is more suited to the messenger than the ones pulling the strings. Mank is of course not about Kane and the 30s, but the 10s and the big Obama hangover of the past decade of American social life, it is using big Hollywood myths to think about how current art is shaped and can react to it and as such it is worth to ponder. Mank can't really escape the process it is describing, it is a very 2020 movie and its make believe relationship to its setting is a major part of it, maybe I just care for that too much too look past it, but it also feel as key to its own limitations. Mank gets some things right, but it is telling that it assumes personal access to corruption instead of genuine outrage would serve one better to fight it, there's just so much it seems able to imagine, but perhaps one shouldn't expect anymore from Fincher than misanthropic disapproval, he can't escape himself as he can't escape Netflix or 10s American sociopolitics. Every artist is the sum of those conditions as much a s his temperament after all.

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