David Fincher’s messy, often brilliant Mank, which follows Hollywood screenwriter Herman J Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman) as he wrestles with the screenplay for Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane, is ostensibly about writing. But in fact, as a piece of film-making, it’s perhaps more helpful to think in terms of performance. This is film-making as role-playing, which has immersed itself, method-style, in a past era and aesthetic, which wears its luminous black-and-white cinematography like a costume.
This results, at times, in a certain theatricality in the approach – the screenplay, by Fincher’s late father, Jack, is full of zingers but relies on rooms full of heavyweight egos stagily taking turns to deliver them. It won’t be for everyone. But in the canon of films about film-making, there are few as textured, as committed and as suffused with real appreciation for the craft as Mank.
Of the performances, Oldman’s has been lauded as great. It’s certainly a turn that is emphatically sure of itself, which is almost the same thing but not quite. But Amanda Seyfried is legitimately superb as Marion Davies, bringing a patina of vulnerability to the big-hearted, brassy broad.