Linda Cook review: ‘Mank’ pays homage to ‘Citizen Kane’ and old Hollywood

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It even looks like “Citizen Kane.”

This gorgeous black-and-white film, beautifully directed by David Fincher “The Social Network,”) it’s the story of Herman J Mankiewicz (the amazing Gary Oldman,) the screenwriter of “Citizen Kane.”

Kane needs to stay put to allow his broken leg to heal after he has been in a car accident, and Orson Welles (Tom Burke) waits for him to deliver a screenplay. This gives Mank time to reflect on his relationship with newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst – on whom “Kane” is based.

We watch while Mank relives part of his life, from his first meeting with Hearst (Charles Dance, “The Imitation Game”) to Mank’s friendship with Hearst’s mistress Marion Davies (Amanda Seyfriend.) It’s fun to see what old Hollywood must have looked like, and felt like.

It’s also about the abuse of power, and the power of propaganda during a California gubernatorial race.

Mank, a “problem drinker” to put it kindly, is outspoken and difficult to manage. But he’s smart, eloquent and not afraid of verbal jousts with the likes of Hearst.

I don’t pretend to tell you this is “based on a true story,” or that it’s completely authentic.” Yes, there was a Mank, and a “Citizen Kane,” but this seems to be highly fictionalized.

Some of the scenes really did happen. For example, at one point studio head Louis B. Mayer tells his MGM staff they must take a pay cut because – despite the trappings of luxury all around them, the Great Depression is upon them.

There’s a lot to enjoy here. the acting is first-rate – but then, when does Oldman ever disappoint? The dialogue is full of clever one-liners. Also, the score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross is one of the finest of the year.

It’s far from a history lesson, but it has its moments of authenticity. It’s an enjoyable character study that illuminates a time, a place, and classic film.

3 ½ out of 4 stars

Rated: R for foul language.

Running time: Two hour and 12 minutes.

Streaming on Netflix.  

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