In David Fincher`s latest film – which was written by his father, Jack Fincher, before his death in 2003 – we travel back to the 1930s to follow the troubles of screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz as he prepares to write the screenplay for The American; a title which was later discarded in favour of something grander: Citizen Kane. The film is still widely regarded as one of the best ever made.
Throughout Fincher’s new masterpiece, the story follows Mankiewicz, otherwise known as Mank (Gary Oldman), through the writing process for Citizen Kane in the 1940s. The film builds up to Mankiewicz’s eventual fall from grace - fuelled by his alcoholism - in the 1930s. Through his expert direction, Fincher remains close to the influence and style of Citizen Kane; evident in his use of visual effects and camera work. The style mirrors the techniques used by Orson Wells when he directed Citizen Kane in 1941.
Mank itself captures the essence of the 1930s and 40s through a soundtrack composed by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross: two artists whom Fincher collaborates with frequently. The film is also structured to mirror the composition of Citizen Kane; this being a direct result of Jack Fincher’s writing paired with his son’s unique style as a director.
A first look at Mank (2020).
Although the style of Mank is similar to Citizen Kane, it is worth mentioning that the latter is also, to an extent, a reflection of Herman Mankiewicz’s life. Citizen Kane was influenced by newspaper tycoon and politician William Randolph Hearst, who is portrayed in Mank by Charles Dance. Dance’s role in the film is essential as he provides a compelling insight into the man who inspired the great Citizen Kane.
In Jack Fincher’s writing he includes the infamous Louis B. Mayer; a vital friendship Mankiewicz once had which was eventually destroyed by alcoholism and arrogance. This gives great depth to the era portrayed within Fincher’s script. Mankiewicz’s alcoholism and arrogance – some may call it pride – is seen as he gambles away most of his family’s fortune in the 1934 election for California’s new governor. Upton Sinclair (played by Bill Nye in Mank), who was in the running for governor, had his hopes destroyed by propaganda films made to discredit him. This scene plays out in a similar way in Citizen Kane as, much like Sinclair, Kane was unsuccessful in being elected.
The dialogue within Mank is something alone deserving of praise. A crucial scene in the film features a speech given by Louis B. Mayer (Arliss Howard) in which the audience is forced to understand the harsh reality of movie making. Mayer describes an industry where “the buyer gets nothing for his money but a memory”, and items he bought “still belong to the man that sold [them] to him”. Fincher reinforces this idea by adding “that’s the real magic of the movies”; a somewhat bleak statement, but a fact that cannot be ignored.
Ultimately, it is clear that Jack and David Fincher, in their respective works, capture the essence of both Mankiewicz’s life and the extravagance of the 30s and 40s without adding a layer of exaggeration. It could be argued that this pairing of father and son has created a true homage to one of the greatest films ever made, and in doing so has put Mank in a position to become a modern day classic.