Rating: 12A Cast: Gary Oldman, Amanda Seyfried, Lily Collins, Tom Pelphrey and Charles Dance Directed by David Fincher Written by Jack Fincher Length: 133mins
Over the last twenty-five years David Fincher has established himself as one of the most exciting and innovative directors working today. Known for his smooth and precise camerawork, as well as hidden CGI (his 2010 film ‘The Social Network’ featured more VFX than 2014’s ‘Godzilla’), his ability to have complete control over a scene means that everything featured in the shot is always relevant either to the story or character. As a result of this almost-obsessive approach to filmmaking, Fincher always produces high quality films which draw in the audience and tell the exact story they set out to. In his first feature film collaboration with Netflix – a name that seems to crop up more and more when talking about studios working with some of today’s greatest directors – he set out to tell the story of Herman Mankiewicz, Oscar-winning screenwriter best known for being the man behind one of cinema’s most critically acclaimed releases, ‘Citizen Kane.’
David Fincher is often known for littering his stories with strange and unusual characters. Initially working with the dregs of humanity, films such as ‘Fight Club’ and ‘Se7en’ work to explore exactly what makes these people tick, and even go as far as to portray them as the protagonist – an idea which his audiences have been known to mistake for idolisation in the past. However, as Fincher has progressed through his career, these sort of lead characters have evolved from being downright sadistic to simply a little morally corrupt. More recently, Jesse Eisenberg’s portrayal of Mark Zuckerberg in ‘The Social Network,’ and Ben Affleck’s performance as a lackluster husband in ‘Gone Girl’ have led us away from the grittier side of Fincher’s filmography, and more towards a character like Gary Oldman’s Herman Mankiewicz, who may not be the most considerate man in the world, but is downright saint-like when placed next to the likes of Tyler Durden or John Doe. The director is clearly obsessed with character, and I feel that this evolution of morality shows that the humanity within a corrupt person is what draws him to a script. As a result of this, ‘Mank’ feels like the next logical step.
Written by his late father, Jack Fincher, the words ‘passion project’ may be quickly tied to the film. However, this isn’t a negative attachment at all, and in fact I would argue that the film plays into a more personal and emotional narrative than many of Fincher’s previous releases. There are no grand climaxes or overtly-terrible people featured, and instead he turns his attention to the state of America and the role that the arts play in politics – a storyline that can all too easily relate to a contemporary audience. In some ways this feels like Fincher’s least-Fincheresque film to date, but despite this, the story always has your attention and the characters never feel uninteresting or outdated. This may perhaps be a result of the combination of care which Fincher allows for each scene, as well as the strength of the performances from leads Gary Oldman and Amanda Seyfried.
When considering the great variety and strength of Gary Oldman’s back catalogue, there was never any need to doubt that he would give anything less than a great performance in this film. His portrayal of a man who has to work to prove himself to those who hold power over him, whilst also staying true to his moral values in terms of politics and creativity is brilliantly brought to the screen, alongside a hidden layer of immorality when it comes to his private affairs. Despite all this, Amanda Seyfried’s performance as Marion Davies, the atypical 1940’s Hollywood star, might just beat out Oldman for the best performance in this film. Her frequent use of smaller, more expressive actions work perfectly both within the context of the film’s setting and the type of showmanship that was celebrated at the time, as well as providing the perfect energy for a supporting role that plays off the worn-out and cynical persona of Oldman’s character.
‘Mank’ is nothing if not authentic – the score was recorded using period appropriate microphones, many of the original locations that they used for the film were untouched since the actions of the story actually played out, the camera equipment works to perfectly capture the style of filmmaking in the 1940’s, with no colour version of the film existing. Fincher is a perfectionist, and he realises his father’s vision with extreme technical ability.
Despite all this, I would struggle to describe ‘Mank’ as anything more than a really well-made film. Perhaps it’s the protagonist’s disregard for his family life that prevents the audience from truly connecting with him, or instead the lack of any great narrative climax as a result of realistic grounding for the story. This feels like a film that may divide audiences, but will definitely bring up plenty of talking points in the future, hopefully with particularly high praise for it’s impressive technical feats and cast performances. It’s on Netflix, it’s an interesting film, definitely give it a watch if you’ve got the time.