“Mank”–a Black & White Melodrama for those who love Old Hollywood

Amanda Seyfried’s light to Gary Oldman’s cynicism in Mank

Question: What’s Black and White and Red (read) all over? Answer: A newspaper. Bada bing bada ba!

No one would fall for that old joke today. One: it needs to be heard, not read. Two: who reads newspapers anymore? Back in the day, men in pressed shirts and three-piece suits might stride to work with a newspaper folded under their arms. Now, I celebrate any Friday I can find a convenience store or grocery store that carries my precious Friday NYTimes. I’m an old-fashioned gal who loves to linger over the printed word and reads all the reviews.

I would seem to be the perfect audience for this black and white film about the screenplay writer, Herman J Mankiewicz. I love newspapers and the film about the news baron, Charles Foster Kane, Citizen Kane, I write, and I enjoy old movies. Knowing David Fincher‘s attention to detail, I figured Mank deserved to be seen on the big screen. I expected the film to mimic Citizen Kane with unique camera set-ups, surprising cinematography and a bold score that my small television…or Goddess forbid, my laptop…wouldn’t do justice to. Living in Pennsylvania, where there are a few cinemas still open for business, I drove an hour to a theater.

Now before you shriek in horror, I feel much safer in a movie theater with a row to myself, and often a whole theater to myself…than in a restaurant. I find that I don’t remember that I have a mask on if the film is engaging enough. For the Mank matinee, there was an older couple in the front row, one 30-40 yr old man in the middle of the theater and me, all the way in the back row in reclining stadium seats. I’m glad I managed to see the film in a cinema.

The cinematography by Erik Messerschmidt is beautiful, though it seemed rather dark. I loved any scene shot outside, specifically, those with a gorgeous vista…otherwise I found myself leaning forward to see through the gloom. I caught a few of the Citizen Kane tributes and I’m sure that shooting day for night during one of the big scenes must’ve been very complicated. Did it amaze me? No. Was the soundtrack (Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross) mesmerizing? No. Did I find the script, penned by David Fincher’s father Jack, intriguing? No. All of it was good, quality work. It’s a long film at almost 2 1/2 hours but seeing it on the big screen gave me a better appreciation for the artistry.

While the script for Citizen Kane is the operatic tale of the rise and fall of William Randolph Hearst, the script for Mank holds an indictment of Louis B Mayer, MGM (Arliss Howard). He’s shown as a hypocrite forcing his staff to take paycuts and fake crying at a funeral. What I found tiring was the parade of men in suits–on location, at the studio, trying to cajole Mank to get his job done. It was a big game of, can you guess who this actor is portraying and how realistic is their performance? I did find it helpful to read about the real people featured. “Mank: 10 Historical Figures from David Fincher’s Netflix Movie Explained”, Jason Wiese, Cinemablend, Dec 12, 2020.

Gary Oldman is wonderful playing the wounded man behind the alcoholic haze. He seems to see what others don’t — the cronism, phoniness and political misdoings. But he can’t see his own wife’s pain or take responsibility for the suffering he inflicts on others. I would’ve chosen two more physically-different actresses to portray his wife (Tuppence Middleton) and his secretary (Lily Collins). Both play caustic but supportive women and seemed interchangeable to me.

Into this downer of a tale shines a light. Dressed in white and glowing in every shot, Amanda Seyfried as Marion Davies, is the reason to see this film. Her witty take on the once-maligned actress and lover of William Rudolph Hearst may well set the record straight after years of conjecture that she was the second wife in Citizen Kane. This is no talent-less songbird. Seyfried, and the screenplay, give her a feisty, goodwilled nature and an abiding love for Hearst.

There’s a beautiful scene toward the end of the film, when Mank fears he’s going to face Davies’ wrath. She drives to the ranch where he’s recuperating. But instead of lambasting him for the cruelty of her depiction, she pleads with him not to savage Hearst with his screenplay. They’re seated on the limb of a tree sipping champagne with Seyfried’s golden curls and frothy dress glowing in the golden hour light. A touching scene where the characters seem to speak their truths without pandering to an audience. You don’t need a knowledge of 30’s Hollywood players to feel the emotions of these two fine actors. It may be in Black and White…but you can read their feelings in Technicolor.

Drinks With Films rating: 2 smuggled flasks of gin (out of 5)


  1. Hi sis!

    Steve was excited to see this film—me—not so much and after reading your review, I may just skip it all together. Sorry you drove an hour to see it, but I guess you had to write a review on it and wanted the full movie theatre experience. I haven’t been to a movie theatre in a year—how crazy are these times??? I sure hope this vaccine is successful and we can begin to live freely again.

    Love you! Stephers

    Sent from Mail for Windows 10

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