In circles of film buffs, “Citizen Kane” has been placed on something of a pedestal since its release. If anyone was to know anything about the production of Citizen Kane, it’s probably the herculean effort of a once startup Orson Welles on his conquest to save RKO pictures single handedly.
While there is some truth to the tale, like how he actually was given complete creative control, most will fail to mention the other name listed for the screenwriting credit in the film: Herman J. Mankiewicz.
“Mank” is David Fincher’s effort on clearing up the whole story of Mankiewicz’s (played brilliantly by Gary Oldman) part in writing Orson Welles’ (played in this picture by Tom Burke) masterpiece. The film we have here jumps between two different time periods, one in which Mank is writing the story itself, and about six to seven years prior to the writing of the script. In those prior years, Mank would have many run-ins with the newspaper mogul, William Randolph Hearst (played here by Game of Thrones’ Charles Dance), and his mistress Marion Davies (Amanda Seyfried).
Hearst is the inspiration for the character of Charles Foster Kane, the namesake of Citizen Kane. Most of the beats of Kane’s and Hearst’s life are lined up very neatly in the dining room scene towards the end. This was intentional. Initially, Citizen Kane was a financial flop in theatres because of Hearst’s influence in the advertising of the film, basically blocking it at every turn, the film that basically showed a spotlight to a man who was once well-intentioned turning his back to a world that never loved him.
The film we have here is not only reminiscent of Citizen Kane in plot points, but also in style. Not just because it’s in black and white, but the movie has something of a Welles feel. The lighting, the sets, the way the credits are at the beginning of the film and the music all take you back to the 1940’s. David Fincher knows exactly what he’s doing here.
In many respects, the movie is itself a rendition of the movie it’s about. Mank is no perfect hero. He’s an absent husband, a functioning alcoholic and is willing to gamble on anything. However, he does fight (as much as a screenwriter can do) for what he believes is right. Does that vindicate him? Certainly not. However, there is something endearing about Mank’s musings with everything that is going on around him at all times. I think we still have a Citizen Kane here, but instead of our main character being Kane himself, it’s more about a fly on the wall.
Mank is a very smart movie. I wouldn’t say as smart to say that smarmy film bros are going to bore you with a 30-minute lecture about the inner workings of the film that you didn’t ask for, but more a smart film as in it’s a movie that respects the audience. Watching Citizen Kane beforehand isn’t required to understand the movie, but I think knowing at the very least the basic plot will increase your enjoyment of the film immensely. If you have two and a half hours to burn, the performances and the atmosphere in this film will serve you well.