Mank ★★★

Imagine reading a love letter written by someone you don’t know, addressed to whom you are not yet acquainted. You read this letter and appreciate its diction, style, and form. You admire the author’s beautiful cursive handwriting, and are affected by the tenderness of their strokes. However, your lack of knowledge of neither of the subject nor the writer makes the content of the letter feel empty: you simply aren’t sure what to make of the allegories and metaphors of love and affection the writer posits.

I have never seen Citizen Kane before, nor have I any knowledge of who Herman J. Mankiewicz was and the trials and tribulations of 1930s America. With my lack of awareness, Mank feel much like the hypothesized love letter.

The shots are crisp, and successfully evoke the feeling of a 1940s film without the quality degradation (minus the few purposeful ones). Gary Oldman shines as a high functioning sardonic alcoholic, supported by strong performances from the entire cast. The writing is beautiful and poetic, and surely deserves any and all accolades it has coming to it. But looking past the exterior, I can’t help but feel that Mank, much like it’s titular figure, is a self-indulgent drama that few can truly understand.

I regret watching this before my potential future viewing of Citizen Kane. But I argue that good films should be able to, at least somewhat, exist in a vacuum. Unfortunately, Mank feels too much like a companion piece to a historically and culturally significant film, instead of being able to stand on it’s own.

Maybe that’s exactly what Fincher Sr & Fincher Jr intended: for Mank to be the film that pays homage to a bygone era that only avid cinephiles and history buffs would recognize. Perhaps that’s how this film should be treated: a spiritual sequel to Citizen Kane. I appreciate the attempt, and I look forward to rewatching this after a viewing of Citizen Kane and a reading up on 1930s American politics.