Director David Fincher has enjoyed an up and down film career with high’s and a few lows but has enjoyed recent sustained success on the small screen with “Mindhunter”.
The demarcation between TV and film has blurred beyond recognition and even full length features are often streamed at the same time as cinema releases or as exclusives, something unheard of a few years ago.
Fincher has created this passion project which skewers the golden age of Hollywood where studios controlled actors and writers lives and interacted with politicians and media tycoons. So not much has changed, albeit creative types have more control over their destiny, as long as they stay off social media.
Of course Oscar voters like nothing more than a film about movies or the making thereof, especially in the “golden era”, therefore no surprise the film is Oscar bait, albeit missing out on the major gongs.
Herman Mankiewicz “Mank” (Gary Oldman) is a washed up screenwriter, soaked in booze and yet has managed to land a commission to write a screenplay for the man of the hour, Orson Welles (Tom Burke). Mank is holed up in the Mojave desert away from his long suffering wife (Tuppence Middleton) following a car accident, nursed by a German housekeeper, stenographer Rita Alexander (Lily Collins) and permanently anxious minder John Houseman (Sam Troughton).
There is a hard deadline to meet, a screenplay to be written and everyone is attempting to keep Mank off the booze, no easy task. Mank draws on his experience and friendship with publishing tycoon William Randolph Hearst (Charles Dance) and his young beau Marion Davies (Amanda Seyfried), creating a story insufficiently distanced from real life to escape attention and upset a few golden apple carts.
The story represents a fictionalized version of the creation of the film “Citizen Kane” with Fincher utilizing his late fathers screenplay, filming in black and white albeit with modern techniques to make the film appear “old”.
There are stand out performances from Arliss Howard as Loius B Mayer, essaying everyone’s idea of an old time studio mogul, watching every penny apart from those he spends on himself. Seyfried portrays the innocent yet resilient chorus girl made good, who is much smarter than she makes out and of course Dance steals every scene he gets.
The film is Oldman’s to own and is an acting tour de force, with Oldman in almost every scene, albeit spending considerable time acting in various states of inebriation.
A well acted film with an interesting albeit niche story to tell and arguably despite the technical ability and acting on display, one must ask who is the film for? Other than older Oscar voters and the director himself, fulfilling a desire to film a 1930/40’s style movie.
Beautifully made and acted recreation of a bygone era, with political and social comments tucked into the screenplay which resonate today, media influencing elections anyone?
Not for everyone and unlikely to set the box office alight, albeit a somewhat redundant phrase in the era of streaming