Mank ★★½

I think it's safe to say that David Fincher's reputation on Letterboxd is extremely high - last year, I saw a stat that FIGHT CLUB was the highest-rated film on the site. Something has gone awry with the reception of MANK when review after review here calls it his worst film. Having seen it, I can understand why. It pursues a curdled mixture of nostalgia and critique that, honestly, will go over the heads of a Netflix audience that's never seen a comedy made in the 1930s and thus won't understand the rhythm the dialogue and performances are aiming for. Emphasis on "aiming for": Gary Oldman is horribly miscast. He's probably bound for an automatic Best Actor Oscar, but he's unconvincing in numerous ways, one being that Oldman, who is almost 20 years older than his character (and plays him at an even younger age in flashbacks), portrays Mankiewicz as so burnt out by his alcohol addiction that he seems incapable of having the discipline to write a script as great as CITIZEN KANE. Another is that Oldman does not read as a Jewish man in 1930s and 1940s America, despite a bit of dialogue about his opposition to the rise of fascism in Europe. When his Gentile wife lists keeping kosher for him as one of the sacrifices she made, it comes as a big surprise because he does not seem to care about Judaism enough to ask her to do so. The imitations of period cinema are puddle-deep; Fincher's fixation on light sources within the frame reveals the digital cinematography. The section on Upton Sinclair's run actually has some urgency and contemporary relevance (Sinclair's used as an expy for Bernie Sanders and Hearst's press for Fox News, Breitbart and co.), but it passes quickly, and the notion of CITIZEN KANE as protest art made in response is barely developed. (Personal and social manipulation are long-running Fincher themes, going back as far as SE7EN & THE GAME, but his work is usually sharper when they're expressed more subtly.) MANK would like to think it's more complicated than the Hollywood self-congratulation of ARGO and THE ARTIST, but it really isn't. It's just grimdark in a very facile manner.

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