- Emma Simmonds
- 30 November 2020
Gary Oldman shines in David Fincher's marvellous evocation of Hollywood's Golden Age
Hollywood's Golden Age is brought back to life in the absolute definition of a labour of love. Working from a script by his late father Jack, David Fincher pours his heart and soul into making the story of Citizen Kane's screenwriter Herman J Mankiewicz sing, romantically evoking an era and emulating its filmmakers with flair and mischief.
Shot in silky monochrome, with playful nods to cue marks, screenplay traditions and rear projection, Mank stars Gary Oldman in the title role. He's introduced post car accident, bedbound and going cold turkey from booze in the North Verde Ranch, Victorville. Mank is there working on the script for the eventual classic, at the behest of theatrical wunderkind Orson Welles, who has been given total creative autonomy on his first feature by RKO. Another British actor, Tom Burke, makes for a shadowy, shifty Welles in fleeting appearances that recall Welles's Harry Lime in The Third Man, and he manages to nail the voice and physical presence. Taking Mankiewicz's dictation is prim Englishwoman Rita (Lily Collins, nice work from her) and their burgeoning bond is charming.
Mank flits back and forth in time across its protagonist's not terribly successful studio career, where he fails to live up to his potential, or goes uncredited for his work (on The Wizard of Oz for example) – becoming more known for the way he drinks, talks and bets than the way he writes. It captures the controversy of Kane – Mank knew William Randolph Hearst, on whom Charles Foster Kane was transparently based, and was a favoured dinner party guest of his for a time. Charles Dance plays Hearst as an intimidating enigma, with Amanda Seyfried bright-eyed and adorable as Hearst's actress mistress Marion Davies. Tuppence Middleton is Mank's long-suffering wife, 'Poor Sara', Tom Pelphrey his ultimately more famous younger brother, Joseph.
Oldman deftly combines casually delivered comedic zingers, self-mocking scrappiness, and regret. His performance brings to mind Ray Milland in The Lost Weekend and William Holden in Sunset Boulevard, and there's a lovely lightness to his work too. And with a script that's as talky, hilarious, cynical and sad as those it apes, its arrival on screen makes for one heck of a tribute to Jack Fincher. How wonderful that, under the stewardship of his son, his words shine brightest of all.
Available to watch in cinemas and on Netflix from Fri 4 Dec.