“Mank” is a change of pace for director David Fincher — instead of exploring the world of startup backstabbing (“The Social Network”), political backstabbing (“House of Cards”) or actual stabbings (“Seven,” “Zodiac,” “Gone Girl,” “Mindhunter” etc.), Fincher takes us back to ’30s and ’40s Hollywood.
Working from a script by Fincher’s late father Jack, the movie is shot and edited to pay homage to the classic studio films of that era — especially “Citizen Kane,” whose co-writer Herman Mankiewicz (played by Gary Oldman) is the “Mank” of the film’s title.
The story jumps back-and-forth in time, showing how Mank became acquainted — and then disillusioned — with newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst (Charles Dance) and his mistress Marion Davies (Amanda Seyfried), and how he drew on that knowledge while writing “Kane” for Orson Welles (Tom Burke).
That might not sound like a particularly dramatic setup for a film — as we acknowledge in the latest episode of the Original Content podcast, “Mank”‘s self-consciously old-fashioned filmmaking and its making-of-a-movie premise can make it feel a bit insider-y, like it’s a footnote to another film.
But ultimately, the movie works whether or not you’ve seen “Citizen Kane.” Fincher captures both the glamor and the ugliness of the studio system, while Oldman delivers a mesmerizing performance as a talented writer who’s been content to joke and drink away his talent — until he finds himself driven to write one of the greatest movies of all time, which will turn many of his former friends and allies into enemies.
In addition to reviewing “Mank,” we also discuss the ambitious streaming plans that Disney outlined at its investor day this week.
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