‘Mank’ represents a departure for director David Fincher. Known for dark, moody films ‘Fight Club’, ‘The Game’ and ‘Panic Room’, you’d think his latest movie, a biographical drama, wouldn’t have much in common with his previous work. Thematically it doesn’t but the intense atmosphere and strong characterisation finds it slotting in comfortably. Another engrossing Fincher vehicle, ‘Mank’ finds the protagonists playing their own mind games just as twisted as Fincher’s other devilish characters.

Screenwriter Herman J Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman) is an alcoholic trying to redeem himself. Working with the greats amongst Hollywood’s 1930’s golden era, he’s currently writing the screenplay to ‘Citizen Kane’, soon to become one of cinema’s classic films. Clashing with its star Orson Welles (Tom Burke), he has to deal with Welles’ ego as well as studio heads including Louis B Mayer (Arliss Howard) and newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst (Charles Dance). Mankiewicz has his work cut out in receiving the credit he feels he’s owed as the film draws nearer to its premiere.

‘Mank’ is a fascinating exploration of how past encounters can inform a writer’s current mindset. A man bound by his principles, Mankiewicz sifts through the lies and hype of the movie machine. How cinematic and media manipulation can dis-inform the populace inspires him in writing ‘Citizen Kane’. ‘Mank’s script has multiple strands like this making for engrossing viewing. This is helped by the cast’s magnetic performances who successfully inhabit their conflicted characters.

‘Mank’ truly shines in Fincher’s direction. Gorgeously photographed in stark black and white, he effectively creates the illusion of presenting a classic movie. You genuinely feel like an observer of 1930’s Hollywood, where the ‘dream factory’ was in its zenith. The manipulations and business deals prove just as interesting as the film’s emotional moments. Despite being shown on Netflix, ‘Mank’ is pure cinema – a lovingly crafted ode to the medium and the early pioneers who made it so powerful.

While ‘Mank’ may not feature people you’d like very much, it still captivates. For good or bad, the events it showcases would have a huge impact on future movie-making. Mankiewicz himself isn’t forgotten with the family name carried onto another generation of screenwriters. One can only wonder what he would make of today’s movie world, where the business of show continues without end.

Rating out of 10: 9


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