I am not a fan of David Fincher’s MANK, which I think is a bad movie even apart from how it disrespects the legacy of Orson Welles. Although I tend to make it a point to not post negative reviews on this blog, I find it annoying to see this film contending for awards and cropping on critics’ lists of the best films of the year. So I’m posting the following review (which I originally wrote for Letterboxd) as a counterpoint.
The dubious premise of MANK, that Orson Welles’ CITIZEN KANE co-screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz was the sole author of that screenplay, is unofficially based on Pauline Kael’s long-discredited, anti-auteurist essay “Raising Kane.” But even setting its historical inaccuracies aside, it seems inarguable to me that MANK is David Fincher’s weakest movie since PANIC ROOM. It’s too meticulously made for me to pan outright – the acting is nearly uniformly fine (Amanda Seyfried and Lily Collins are especially good in underwritten supporting roles) and there’s a lot of impressive visual razzle dazzle. But the MANK script, by Fincher’s own father Jack, which producer Eric Roth is rumored to have retooled, is fatally flawed. Actors have to spout reams of expositional dialogue (virtually every scene includes someone saying something for the benefit of the audience like, “You know Louis B. Mayer, don’t you?”) with the result being that neither the period nor the characters inhabiting it ever truly come to life. Gary Oldman, 20+ years too old for the part, is miscast in the title role – although I don’t know if anyone more age appropriate could have saved the ludicrously overwritten and overacted scene where Mank seals his doom by drunkenly describing the KANE script as a modern-day version of Don Quixote to William Randolph Hearst at a dinner party at San Simeon. Even worse: The climactic argument between Mank and Welles, in which the great director destroys his co-writer’s Seconal supply and thus inspires Mank to create the scene where Kane destroys the possessions in his second wife’s bedroom, is probably the single worst scene Fincher has ever directed. In this moment, it’s as if the actor playing Welles, who does a decent impersonation up until the moment he’s required to raise his voice, realizes how bad the material is and throws in the towel. That Fincher, who made a masterpiece with ZODIAC and a near-masterpiece with THE SOCIAL NETWORK, is probably going to finally collect an Oscar for directing this lesser work is a testament to nothing more than how much Hollywood still hates Orson Welles and has never forgiven him for being a visionary ahead of his time. In a more just world, the discourse surrounding Welles’ amazing THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND — also distributed by Netflix — would’ve dwarfed the buzz surrounding this slickly produced but ultimately hollow David Fincher vanity project.