Movie review: ‘Mank’

Posted 3/5/21

Gary Oldman stars in “Mank,” a beautiful film about Old Hollywood and one of the best pictures of the year.

In 1940, a 24-year-old Orson Welles (Tom Burke) was lured to Hollywood by …

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Movie review: ‘Mank’

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Gary Oldman stars in “Mank,” a beautiful film about Old Hollywood and one of the best pictures of the year.

In 1940, a 24-year-old Orson Welles (Tom Burke) was lured to Hollywood by RKO Pictures to make a movie. He was given total creative autonomy to make a film about any subject. Herman Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman in a bravura performance), is wheeled into a small house in California, with a cast on his leg up to his thigh.

“It’s a dry house,” John Houseman (Sam Troughton) tells the convalescing Mank. “The owner doesn’t tolerate liquor,” he says, as he opens a case of liquor bottles.

“Write hard, aim low,” Houseman tells Mank, warning him to “dumb it down” for the audience.

He is introduced to his secretary. “How do you do, Mr. Mankiewicz?”

“That’s a good question,” he replies.

“I achieved a perfect equilibrium with the studio,” he tells his wife, Sara (Tuppence Middleton) in a flashback. “I won’t work with half the producers and the other half won’t work with me.”

In a car, a momentary distraction causes the vehicle to go off the road, injuring Mank.  As he convalesces, he dictates the script to “Citizen Kane,” a thinly veiled story of publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst (Charles Dance), and still one of the greatest films ever made.

Mank gets his younger brother, Joe (Tom Pelphrey) a job. “You only need to do two things,” Mank says. “Don’t roll your eyes and try not to fall asleep.”

He is introduced to mogul Louis B. Mayer (Arliss Howard), the head of MGM, who says, “There are three work rules at this studio: Ars Gratia Artis, Art for Arts Sake; Rule No. 2, you may have heard that MGM has more stars than in the heavens, do not believe this. We have only one star, Leo the Lion. Do not forget that. Many stars have, now they twinkle elsewhere. Rule No. 3: People think MGM stands for Metro Goldwyn Mayer. It does not. It stands for Mayer’s Gantza Mischpacha, Mayer’s whole family.   You got a problem, come to Papa. This is a business where the buyer gets nothing for his money but a memory. What he bought still belongs to the man that sold it. That’s the magic of the movies. Never forget it.”

Mank sends a telegram to New York writer Charlie Lederer to come to Hollywood. “Millions are to be made and your only competition are idiots.”

Mank introduces Charlie to some of Hollywood’s greatest writers, imported from New York’s theater: George S. Kaufmann, SJ Perelman, Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur.

Mank is a character who drinks and gambles too much and wanders around the studio like it is his personal playground.

“I’m shocked to see you here,” says MGM wonder boy Irving Thalberg (Ferdinand Kingsley).

“I’d be shocked to see me here, too. If only I knew where here was,” Mank replies.

Mank runs into actress and longtime girlfriend of Hearst’s, Marion Davies (Amanda Seyfried).

When Marion references Hearst’s magnificent San Simeon estate, Mank quotes George Bernard Shaw’s description as “it’s what God might have built had he had the money.”

He finally meets Hearst, who recognizes Mank as the former New York playwright and drama critic turned screenwriter. “The movies are going to need people who honor words. There’s a golden age coming. How many gangsters do people actually meet? How many people’s families are like the Marx Brothers?”

“Besides my own?”

Masterfully directed by David Fincher from a beautiful screenplay by his father, Jack Fincher, and shot in black and white, the film is a love letter to the early days of talking pictures and the personalities behind the screen who were often more colorful, charismatic and passionate than those in front.                                                                          

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