7/10 David Fincher is easily one of the best directors working today and I would argue one of the all-time best. He is a true master of his craft and is primarily known for making his actors do upwards of over 100 takes of each scene as well as having a fascination with serial killers and the grimmer side of humanity. I re-watched his entire filmography (as well as “Citizen Kane”) to get hyped for this and at the end of the day, this is a good Fincher film with plenty to admire but that left me feeling underwhelmed as the end credits began to roll. It isn’t that there is much wrong with this film, it is more so that I wasn’t blown away from the finished product like several of his other films have done for me. While revisiting his past works, he generally has three kinds of films: Classics, Others and the In-betweens. The classics blow you away, stay with you for years after watching and are true works of art. The others are still good but just popcorn entertainment to pass some time with. The in-betweens are much better than the popcorn flicks but don’t quite reach the level of classic. Classics include films like “Seven”, “Fight Club”, “Zodiac”, “The Social Network”, etc. Others include “Alien 3”, “The Game”, “Panic Room”, etc. The in-betweens include “The Curious Cast of Benjamin Button”, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” and “Gone Girl.” “Mank” falls into that in-between category. It is a superbly acted, technical marvel that will surely receive many Oscar nominations but whose script/story leaves a bit to be desired. Right away the film sucks you in with its gorgeous black and white cinematography from Erik Messerschmidt. The color tones within the black and white spectrum, the elegant use of shadows and lighting and how a few moments pay homage to “Citizen Kane” itself, this is easily some of the best cinematography of 2020 and I am sure the Academy will recognize that. The acting is always masterful in Fincher’s films (due to a combination of all those takes and three time Oscar nominee/two time Oscar winning editors Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall). Gary Oldman is obviously the main attraction and he nails the unfiltered, drunken writer perfectly. The stand out who has deservedly been receiving lots of attention for her role (and Best Supporting Actress hype) is Amanda Seyfried, who has sure come a long way since her “Mean Girls” days. She provides the youthful kindness and heart that every old man in the Hollywood studio system seems to lack, having not been jaded quite yet. The sound was recorded and done using old timey devices that would have been used back in the 1930s and 1940s, when the film takes place and hearing the crackling sound as we see cigarette burns blip on the top right side of the screen will make you feel as if you’ve been transported back in time. Speaking of sound, Oscar winning composers Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross not only create a score unlike any they have ever written before but it also happens to be one of their best. The costume design, production design, sets, props, hair & makeup, etc. are all Oscar worthy in their recreation of the era. Almost every aspect that adds up to a film is flawless and Fincher’s direction is a large part of that as he deserves the majority of the credit here. Yet there are a few issues where “Mank” drunkenly stumbles. The great Charles Dance plays William Randolph Hearst and although his quiet, malevolent stare communicates more than most actors can with words, I felt he was underwritten and underutilized. For such a powerful, imposing and important figure to our story, we don’t get to know much about him and he doesn’t have enough speaking lines for us to get a true sense about him. The film was also filmed digitally instead of on film, which I understand but disagree with. Fincher loves filming on digital, particularly with his many takes and how digital allows you to do more and have greater freedom than film does. However, since they went old school with how they did the sound to make it sound authentic to the era, it would have been wise to shoot this film the same way they shot all films back in the day, including “Citizen Kane” …on film. Bill Nye (yes, that science guy) has a cameo that served more as a distraction than anything else. Finally, I understand why Fincher chose to make this film. His late father wrote the film and it has been a personal pet project for Fincher for decades (he came close to making it in the 1990s). However, the material, while interesting, doesn’t quite have the same impact and/or resonance of Fincher’s classic films. Fincher always elevated his material but it is the material that is the most important key for Fincher. Despite how gorgeous the film looks and sounds, I wasn’t as sucked in as I’ve been with past Fincher films. I will always be excited at anything Fincher decides to tackle but I hope his next Netflix feature (he just signed onto a four-year deal with them) is able to blow me away while I sit, waiting and praying for “Mindhunter” season 3 to get greenlit. Cinephiles, film buffs, film school professors and people who love old time Hollywood stories will be fascinated with the behind the scenes politics of this bygone era, but your average film goer may not appreciate it as much. I still strongly recommend giving “Mank” a look since there is so much to admire here but more importantly, be sure to check out the Fincher classics I listed earlier if you truly want to have your mind blown.
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