Catch me getting my hot take in BEFORE the Oscars so people won’t call me an edgelord after this movie sweeps every category.
Release date: November 13, 2020
Director: David Fincher
Who should watch this movie: People who love movies (like, Love love). Folks with an interest in Hollywood lore. Political scientists.
When should you watch this movie: When you go for your third cup of coffee at 2pm. When you’re feeling jaded and/or insignificant.
The sell: It is both pedestrian and controversial to say, simply, movies matter. To what extent and in what ways they matter can be debated ad infinitum, but that’s not my goal here nor is it the goal of David Fincher’s latest production: Mank. While the screenplay for Mank, a fanciful biopic of Herman J. Mankiewicz, was written by Fincher’s father back in the 90s, the junior Fincher’s directorial touch is undeniable. Shooting in black and white, Fincher’s camera ambles through time, locating Mankiewicz at various points in his life, not all of which are obviously significant, but sketch a portrait of a man realizing too late that he has failed too see the big picture. The dialogue is floral but not inappropriate for the time period, and serves as an ode to the rapid-fire quips of classic Hollywood, think Philadelphia Story or His Girl Friday. The effect is nostalgic, sometimes overly so. The political messaging, while undeniably present, is muddled by both the psychology of individual characters and the Fincher-esque obsession with atmosphere. Audiences are seemingly meant to interpret the film’s moral quandary – the power of film galvanized for political ends – through the eyes of Mank, who himself is not convinced of said power until it is cruelly demonstrated before his eyes to devastating effect. In some ways, the performances are too good. Gary Oldman dominates. Laying bare the painfully human qualities of the titular character, Oldman’s/Mank’s personal revelations are difficult to disentangle from the political and ethical revelations central to the story. Instead of one clarifying the other, the forces of personal and political distract from one another and leave only a vague impression of what might have been a cutting thesis. At the heart of this film is a conflict between childlike love of cinema and jaded skepticism of the industry. At no point does one win over the other, and by the end of the film, viewers are left with the same bittersweet taste of mixed emotion as the Fincher’s likely had when they made this movie.
Note: Let’s have another conversation soon about Gary Oldman playing a famous Jewish man and calling his wife “Schnutz.” It didn’t sit right with me and we should talk about it.