I should have loved "Mank."
Set in the Hollywood of the 1930s and 40s, featuring a bunch of actors playing such cinematic icons as Orson Welles, Louis B. Mayer, Irving Thalberg and the like, telling the story behind the writing of "Citizen Kane," one of the most seminal movies in film history, shot in a film noirish style reminiscent of "Kane" itself.
So then why does the whole thing land with such a thud?
I don't know about Gary Oldman. I thought we was a good actor. Maybe he is. But he's just so hammy in everything he does lately. Outside of Hollywood movies, has there ever been an alcoholic who walks around stumbling drunk, slurring his words, and crashing dinner parties like John Barrymore on a bender? The alcoholics I have personally known (and I've known an alarming number) never actually get drunk, and in fact try as hard as they can to hide the fact that they're even drinking a lot. But this movie is just one scene after another of Oldman acting like someone's best guess of what a really drunk person would be like.
The film is all about how amazing the screenplay for "Citizen Kane" was, which is true, and which is why it's ironic that the screenplay of "Mank" is the worst thing about it. It tries to recreate "Kane's" fragmented chronology, but while in "Kane" that trick was enigmatic, in "Mank" it's just messy. The problem with trying to literally emulate a classic film in style is that if your film isn't really good in its own right, all you do is remind people of how much better than your own movie the classic one is.
The attempts to point out the political and cultural parallels between America in the mid-30s and America of today feel shoe-horned into the film. They may be true, but they're telegraphed with all the subtlety of a Broadway marquee.
There were scenes I really liked, like one where Herman Mankiewicz and Marion Davies (Amanda Seyfreid) stroll around the grounds of Randolph William Hearst's estate, the one that inspired "Citizen Kane's" Xanadu; and other scenes that I really didn't like, like the one late in the film where Mank crashes one of Hearst's dinner parties and ends with him barfing on the floor. It goes on forever and served as the tipping point for my patience with the movie.
There's enough professionalism and craft behind "Mank" to keep it from being outright bad, and anyone who's interested in the history of Hollywood will probably want to see it, but it's almost painful to think how much better it could have and should have been given its subject matter.
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