NETFLIX has two big budget prestige films out this month - Hillbilly Elegy, traditional Oscar bait and frankly one of the worst films I have seen this year; and Mank, from director David Fincher, which is a Hollywood biopic, traditionally a genre that does well at award season.
The deal with Netflix is a kind of cash for class scenario. The streaming service would love the respect big Hollywood studios have, so its goal is to win a best picture Oscar. It should have, two years ago, with Roma, but an open letter from Steven Spielberg about the merits of the theatre experience did enough damage to the film's campaign, while last year, Martin Scorsese's The Irishman also failed to win the award.
The film is centred around Herman ‘Mank’ Mankiewicz, the co-writer of Citizen Kane, and covers his difficult working relationship with Orson Welles and, through flashback, how his relationships in Hollywood became strained through alcoholism, the changing politics of the industry, and his rivalry with William Randolph Hurst, the newspaper tycoon who Kane was clearly based on.
Mank never quite gets to where it needs to be to be much of a crowd pleaser. It is an interesting biopic and at least feels original. Often we are presented with biopics like Bohemian Rhapsody that follow the same tropes beat for beat. That is certainly not the case here. However, there is not enough in Mank for those who do not interest in Hollywood history. There is no Live Aid concert pay off as in Bohemian Rhapsody. It takes no time explaining who Louis B Mayer or David O Selznick were so it can be good to have Wikipedia open while you watch.
Gary Oldman plays Mank and is his usual fantastic self but the best performance is from Amada Seyfried as Marion Davis, an actor who was also Hurst's girlfriend. Seyfried lights up this black and white film with every scene she is in, while Charles Dance is also in excellent form as Hurst himself.
Mank is a real passion for director David Fincher, in fact the screenplay was written by his father, Jack Fincher, who passed away in 2003. Fincher is a funny one. For such a massively famous and popular director he does not make many movies. His last two - Girl With A Dragon Tattoo (2011 ) and Gone Girl (2014 ) are adaptations of pulp-y airport best sellers. Both are great films but will not be entering the AFI Top 100 anytime soon.
However, I am sure he was delighted he got to make this unusual movie, a family project, very clearly made on his terms, and one of the pros working with Netflix is that it lets directors make exactly what they want. Personally, I enjoyed Mank but did not love it, and would have a hard time recommending it to most people, but, if you love Hollywood history, and that era of filmmaking, you will get a lot out of it.