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REVIEW: “Write what you know” – ‘Mank’ (2020)

Image courtesy of No Film School

New Netflix release, Mank, follows the struggles of screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman), and his journey in writing the revolutionary film, Citizen Kane. The film explores the political context of the time in which it was written and the people that inspired the story. Whilst Citizen Kane has been able to create a legacy that still remains to this day, it seems that Mank will not be able to do the same.

The enjoyment and understanding of this film does rely on having watched Citizen Kane. Many of the techniques used were trying to replicate the experimental genius of Citizen Kane but often failed, despite the copious amounts of technology that we have today. The nonlinear narrative is extremely similar to that of its predecessor. However, its impact is destroyed by the use of the jarring typewriter to blatantly point out that you’re watching a flashback. What Citizen Kane excelled at was creating a film that one could put together like a jigsaw puzzle and not one that is just muddled up for no reason other than to try and make it more interesting. 

Another quite jarring aspect of this film was the soundtrack. Music plays incessantly throughout the film and there seems to be a lack of silence, which is often effective in changing the mood or creating tension. The upbeat old timey soundtrack adds nothing to the film as a whole and is used just to fill space. 

The tone of the film is mostly monotonous and fails to make its audience feel much of anything. Most characters lack emotion and struggle to gain even the slightest reaction from the audience. One specific example of this would be from Louis B. Mayer’s (Arliss Howard) birthday party. As conversation turns from lighthearted chat to seriously controversial political discussions, tension should rise and be felt by those watching. The characters in Mank, with such seemingly dull personalities, fail to do this and therefore, you are left confused when Marion Davies (Amanda Seyfried) storms out of the celebration. The pace of the film remains on a plateau, which can lead to a very lifeless watch. 

One relationship that I did enjoy watching develop was between Mankiewicz and Rita Alexander (Lily Collins). Being isolated together whilst writing the script, allows for Alexander’s loathing of Mankiewicz’s nonchalant attitude to turn into one of admiration at his unhinged genius. In spite of Mankiewicz’s alcoholic tendencies and Alexander’s uptight work ethic, they blend well together and enable each other’s work. The characters warm to each other, which is pleasant to watch in such a cold film. 
Overall, the key to this film is to ‘write what you know’, as said by John Houseman (Sam Troughton). You get to learn more about the real people surrounding Mankiewicz that inspired the eccentric characters that we are so familiar with in Citizen Kane. Even though the film’s tone severely lacks, it does informatively portray Mankiewicz’s struggle to gain credit for his writing and brings to the forefront the man who could be seen as the real genius behind Citizen Kane.

Available on Netflix

By Amy Britton