Review of Mank

Mank (2020)
7/10
Mank
22 March 2021
Warning: Spoilers
Even a global pandemic like COVID-19 was not going to stop Awards Season, and when the nominations for the Academy Awards were announced, this was the film that received the most, and I was looking forward to it, directed by Oscar and Golden Globe nominated David Fincher (Se7en, Fight Club, The Social Network, Gone Girl). Basically, in 1940, twenty-four-year-old Orson Welles (Tom Burke) is given complete creative freedom for his next project by RKO. Welles recruits scathing social critic and alcoholic screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz (Oscar and Golden Globe nominated Gary Oldman) for the screenplay. Herman, known to his friends as "Mank", is in Victorville, California recovering from a broken leg following a car accident. Herman dictates the script to his secretary, Rita Alexander (Lily Collins, Phil's daughter), who notices similarities between the main character and William Randolph Hearst (Charles Dance). Producer John Houseman (Sam Troughton, Patrick's grandson) is concerned about Herman's dense, nonlinear screenplay, while Joseph "Joe" Mankiewicz, Herman's brother (Tom Pelphrey) worries that it may anger the Hearst, the powerful businessman, newspaper publisher, and politician. In 1930, Herman visits an MGM location where he and the female lead, Marion Davies (Oscar and Golden Globe nominated Amanda Seyfried), recognise each other. She introduces him to Hearst, her benefactor and lover, who takes a liking to Herman. In 1933, Herman and his wife Sara (Tuppence Middleton) attend the birthday party for film producer and co-founder of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studios (MGM) Louis B. Mayer (Full Metal Jacket's Arliss Howard) at Hearst Castle with many Hollywood celebrities. They discuss the rise of Nazi Germany and the upcoming state governor election, in particular candidate Upton Sinclair (Bill Nye). Herman and Marion go for a walk, where they bond over discussions on politics and the film industry. In 1940, Houseman is getting impatient with Herman's lack of progress. Rita is also concerned with the timing of the writing, as well as Herman's alcoholism. Herman eventually finishes the screenplay in time. Houseman is impressed but reminds Herman that he will receive no credit for his work. In 1934, Herman and Joseph begin working at MGM under Mayer. Studio executives, including Irving Thalberg (Ferdinand Kingsley), actively work against Sinclair's electoral campaign. The studio produces propaganda films for a smear campaign, funded by Hearst, against Sinclair. Herman approaches Marion to get the films pulled but is unsuccessful as she has already left the studio for Warner Brothers. Herman and Sara later go to the Trocadero Nightclub for a party to watch the election night, where Mayer announces the winner, Frank Merriam. Herman's colleague, director Shelly Metcalf (Jamie McShane) is ridden with guilt over his role in the smear campaign, despite personally supporting Sinclair. Then, after being diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, Metcalf commits suicide by gunshot. In 1940, Charles Lederer (Joseph Cross) picks up the screenplay from Herman to deliver to the studio. Joe visits Herman after reading the screenplay and warns him of Hearst's reaction and how it might affect Marion. However, he does believe that it's the finest screenplay Herman has ever written. Marion also visits and tries to persuade Herman to change the screenplay but to no avail. She tells Herman she will try to stop the picture from getting made. In 1937, Herman crashes a party at Hearst Castle, where he drunkenly pitches the idea for the film that he will go on to write in 1940, offending everyone present including Hearst, Mayer, and Marion. Mayer is enraged and reveals that Herman is on Hearst's payroll and calls him a court jester. Hearst tells him an allegory about a monkey and an organ grinder and sees him out. In 1940, despite pressure from Hearst, Welles is determined to make the film, Citizen Kane, and intends to do a re-write without Herman. He visits Herman and offers him a buyout from the studio. However, renouncing the terms of his contract, Herman requests credit for the script, declaring it his greatest work. Welles is upset and tells Herman that he has supported him, before leaving angrily. Herman ultimately receives joint credit with Welles, and the two win the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for Citizen Kane two years later. Also starring Monika Gossmann as Fraulein Freda, Toby Leonard Moore as David O. Selznick, Jack Romano as Sid Perelman, Adam Shapiro as George S. Kaufman, John Churchill as Charles MacArthur, Jeff Harms as Ben Hecht, Derek Petropolis as Eddie Cantor, Paul Fox as Joe Von Sternberg, Tom Simmons as Doctor, Jessie Cohen as Norma Shearer Thalberg, Craig Welzbacher as Rexford Tugwell, Craig Robert Young as Charlie Chaplin, Scarlet Cummings and Grace Kennedy-Piehl as Bette Davis, Isabel Dresden as Carole Lombard, Emily Joy Lemus as Billie Dove, Joanne Thomson as Geraldine Fitzgerald, Michelle Twarowska as Joan Crawford, and Trevor Wooldridge as Darryl F. Zanuck. Oldman plays the drunken Mankiewicz struggling with the famous screenplay perfectly, Seyfried is luminous as the actress who is his close friend (the real Davies is apparently the inspiration for the name "Rosebud"), and there is marvellous support from Dance, Burke, Howard, and others as recognisable Hollywood names. It is an interesting mix of the story of what many consider to be the greatest film ever made, and a celebration of classic cinema. The film was shot in black-and-white using RED cameras, giving the picture and sound quality a feel of something you may have seen from the 1930s or 1940s, with clever back-and-forth storytelling (text onscreen is both clever and helpful), great cinematography, superb costume and makeup period detail, and a brilliantly period-authentic score. Ignoring the political subplot, it is one of those films that really captures the subject matter and makes you feel like you're watching something from the old days, a terrific biographical drama. It won the Oscars for Best Production Design, and Best Cinematography, and it was nominated for Best Motion Picture of the Year, Best Sound, Best Original Score for Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, Best Makeup and Hairstyling, and Best Costume Design, it won the BAFTA for Best Production Design, and it was nominated for Original Score, Best Original Screenplay for Jack Fincher (David's father, posthumously), Best Costume Design, Best Cinematography, and Best Make Up & Hair, and it was nominated the Golden Globes for Best Motion Picture - Drama, Best Screenplay, and Best Original Score. Very good!
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