The sheer amount of original content Netflix produces never ceases to amaze me. I feel like I can barely go a week without seeing a new movie or show under the “Netflix Originals” category. It’s almost relentless.
Of course, a lot of this content isn’t particularly good. I’ve reviewed a lot of the movies they’ve put out over the last few months, and the results haven’t always been pretty. Sometimes it does make me wonder if it’s worth it to get excited about any of their new films considering how many of them have been duds.
But every once in a while, something comes out that reminds me why I still get excited for their releases. This time, that reminder was titled “Mank.”
“Mank” is the story of Herman J. Mankiewicz, the man who co-wrote “Citizen Kane” with Orson Welles. The film cuts between the writing process for the film and flashbacks showing his relationships to the many people who would later influence “Citizen Kane,” particularly his friends Marion Davies and William Randolph Hearst.
While I didn’t love “Mank,” I can say I really enjoyed it and it’s one of the better movies I’ve seen this year. That being said, it’s hardly the most accessible film around.
One of the best parts of the film is definitely David Fincher, who has finally returned to directing movies after a six-year stint of work in television. While “Mank” doesn’t stack up to some of his best work — such as “The Social Network” or “Zodiac” — it’s definitely a solid addition to his filmography. This is easily one of the most stylish movies he’s made, and his choices were consistently strong.
I also liked the score and how it tied in with the sound design. Since the film was going for a classic Hollywood style, the composers — Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross — chose to use instruments from the time period. While it sounds kind of gimmicky on paper, I thought it was pretty well executed. The music, in conjunction with the sound design, does a great job of evoking the time period.
The performances were very strong all around. Gary Oldman has been doing great work for decades, and he continues the streak with his wonderful portrayal of Mankiewicz. While the others do great as well, particularly Arliss Howard and Tom Pelphrey, the real standout is Amanda Seyfried. She injects a lot of life into Marion Davies, who could’ve been a really dull and annoying character in the hands of a lesser performer.
But “Mank” has a couple of issues, and unfortunately they’re pretty big ones.
For one, the pace is frustratingly slow. While it isn’t all that long, the 131-minute runtime starts to feel like an eternity. For the last 30 minutes, I could feel the film wrapping up, but it just wouldn’t end. And while the ending itself is fairly fitting, it doesn’t feel as satisfying as I hoped it would be.
The other problem is one of accessibility. “Mank” will be virtually nonsensical if you go into it with no prior knowledge of Herman J. Mankiewicz, the studio system or “Citizen Kane.” It would be like flipping on “Avengers: Endgame” without having seen any other Marvel movie. It might be entertaining, but it probably won’t make a whole lot of sense when a bunch of random people in funny costumes start walking out of portals.
But if you do have the necessary prior knowledge, then you’re in for a real treat. “Mank” is full of references to the classic Hollywood era, and anyone familiar with that time period will have a lot of moments to fanboy out on. I know I did.
On the whole, I got a real kick out of “Mank.” I thought it was a lot of fun and I’d happily watch it again. It might not be the best movie ever, but it definitely didn’t disappoint me.