The 2021 Best Picture Nominees: Mank

| April 19, 2021

At last!  After, arguably, the strangest year in movie history, The 93rd Academy Awards are almost here – just 9 days from now.  And to get ready, I’m taking a look at each of the eight films selected as Oscar’s best.  Are they?  Are they really?

It is very touching that David Fincher would want to be the director to helm a screenplay that was written by his late father.  Jack Fincher (1932-2003) had written the bio-pic of legendary screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz; it had been around Hollywood for many years because the major studios all rejected it.  Given that history, who wouldn’t want to honor their late father in this way?  Who wouldn’t want to look up to Heaven and thank their old man from Oscar’s stage?

Well, not to be cruel, but given the finished product I could understand why the studios passed.  Yes,
Mank is a glorious physical recreation of Old Hollywood but it has a narrative drive that never finds its center.  The story of the creation of a legendary screenplay – in this case Citizen Kane – is a very difficult story to tell, one that walks a tightrope of historical inaccuracy and the banal sight of a writer sitting behind his typewriter clacking away.  Unfortunately, this movie falls victim to both. 

If you know the history of the genesis of Citizen Kane then the movie is a frustrating experience, a fractured piece of Hollywood history that leaves important information out and alters some aspects of the story in completely the wrong way.  If you don’t know the history of the genesis of Citizen Kane then the movie is a meaningless puzzle anyway.

The atmosphere almost makes up for the film’s shortcomings, almost.  Central to the production is the world in which we find ourselves, the world of Hollywood’s fabled old guard, obscenely-rich immigrants who transplanted themselves to the edge of California’s sunbaked coast and built an empire where their fortunes allowed them to withstand the blistering maelstrom of the Great Depression.  And into this chaos comes Herman Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman), a writer whose drinking problem is so present that it is almost a walking stereotype.  We know from the outset that his task is to write what will echo in history as the greatest screenplay ever written, a multi-layered script called “The American” – you know it as Citizen Kane.  You know where the story is going but it is never clear that Fincher knows how to get there in an interesting way.

Plus, I’m not sure that Mankiewicz’s role in this story is the tastiest bit of the legend of Citizen Kane.  The movie inches toward the story of how press lord William Randolph Hearst saw the film as an invasion of his private life (or an assault on it) and went to war with Orson Welles in an effort to bury the movie before it saw the light of day, but it’s always off to the side.  That story, of two towering egos, battling for supremacy is much more interesting.  With Mank I never could figure out the point.  I always felt like I was watching the wrong story.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(2021) View IMDB Filed in: Uncategorized