Old as the film may be, Citizen Kane (1941) was often regarded as one of the best films of all time. From the story to the filmmaking technique involved, the film is still subject to praise to this day even though it was made during the classical black-and-white period. It also gave Orson Welles his claim to fame as one of the best film directors of all time.
However, Welles wasn’t the only writer to the film’s complex and layered story. Instead, majority of Citizen Kane’s story was written by Herman Jacob “Mank” Mankiewicz, a renowned Hollywood scriptwriter. This is where Mank (2020) comes in: his experiences encountering various Hollywood figures in the 1930s that inspired the story of Citizen Kane, alongside his race against time to finish the film’s script amidst external oppositions and internal struggles.
Played by Gary Oldman, Mank was remarkably eccentric, even according the 1930s Hollywood standards. Despite being a serial drunkard, Mank was known for his honesty, broadmindedness, and his witty way with words — both in the written and spoken sense. It was also his bluntness that caused him trouble with most Hollywood head honchos at that time, partially due to his affinity of openly criticizing Hollywood tycoons.
When it comes to Oldman’s portrayal of the character, there is no doubt that it was an Oscar-worthy performance. Mank may seem like a bumbling drunkard at a glance, but Oldman was able to bring sympathetic qualities to the character. Thanks to his performance, Oldman was able to bring out Mank’s genius and good-natured side beneath his default ragged appearance.
Mank’s characterization was also strengthened by top notch performances by the film’s supporting cast. There were Amanda Seyfried as Marion Davies, a Hollywood actress that sympathized with Mank and Lily Collins as Rita Alexander, Mank’s sharp-minded secretary who assisted in the writing of Citizen Kane’s script. All performances in the film were able to flesh out Mank’s good and bad sides, which made his character all the more unique.
Unfortunately, Mank has a bit of a writing problem. All characters in the film — Mank himself included — often talked in circles. A lot of the terms, phrases, and idioms exclusive to 1930s Hollywood were thrown around, which can take the audience out of the story. It’s not all bad however, as Mank’s sophisticated dialogue — be it from him or from those around him — played well into his character as a man well-versed in constructing words.
Still in the spirit of the 1930s, Mank’s unique approach cannot be ignored. All aspects of the production has an authentic 1930s feel to it: from scoring, production design, costume design, all the way to its distinct black-and-white cinematography. Even so, it was all done in high quality, and this deserves more appreciation. It’s like watching a 1940 film with a 2020 quality!
In conclusion, Mank is a unique character study, both story and presentation-wise. It cannot be denied that the film’s convulted dialogue can take the audience off the film. However, if said audience were willing to see Mank to the end, they will be able to fully witness the beautifully bizarre story of a wise and kind-hearted drunkard that is Mank.