No Ed Wood
The rambling bore, a comedian who's run out of gags and the empty theatre - these are given to us by David Fincher's 2020 Netflix release, Mank. With the monochrome filter on, he scratches for any relevance in the screenwriting career of Herman J. Mankiewicz (played by Gary Oldman). This man co-wrote Citizen Kane with Orson Welles. Yet Fincher's movie and Pauline Kael's Raising Kane article (also a book) would have us believe that the boy wonder (Welles) deserved no credit for writing the movie at all. Crucially, Barry Norman's Anatomy of a Classic dispels that falsehood.
Regarding Fincher's movie, it's as dry as an old sand bank. Encounters are so coated in irony every attempt to squeeze out a laugh left me stone-faced. Meanwhile, composers Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross step out of their comfort zone. Another way of saying they brood about Bernard Herrmann, throw in some swing, a little dissonance and hope for the best. Golly gee. If ever a motion picture summed up the insulation of our COVID times, Mank consumes the biscuit without sharing.
Keeping track of all the gossip and subterfuge taxes the patience indefinitely. Although I like movies built upon conversations -- intelligent talking movies such as Margin Call, Nixon and Inherit the Wind -- Mank felt like a broadside of leftovers. So many exclamations and not one individual could arrive at a salient point.
Actually, the subplot about Upton Sinclair (Bill Nye) running for governor serves no purpose at all. It was probably added in recognition of what happens to the title character's political career in Citizen Kane. But that's never made clear. Like grapes on an overcrowded vineyard, many moments resemble the deleted scenes on DVDs and Blu-rays.
Indeed, Mank could have learned a thing or two from Tim Burton's Ed Wood. Where that film reflected a bygone era and the adventures of low budget filmmaking, Fincher's effort makes for a passive experience.
Before moving on, there's a technical matter to consider. Black and white cinematography allows for the fullest expression of drama through light, shadow and tonality. Essentially, it's about values and contrasts... from the brightest highlights to the most low-key areas, with all those mid-tones in between. Mastering this art can transcend the two-dimensional representation of people, places and objects.
Now, a great deal might be made about Mank appearing in black and white. However, what we get resembles an ocean of muddy greys. The format comes across as an affectation or afterthought rather than a dramatic and necessary means to tell the story.
Finally, I was hoping that Fincher might turn the tide, offering at least one thing to get excited about in 2020. Alas, that's the way the cookie crumbles... Mankiewicz wise.
(Released by Netflix and rated "R" by MPAA.)