There are two types of Hollywood-on-Hollywood stories.
The first celebrates the glitzy mirage of Hollywood success, and the second chastises it for being a commercial industry. As director David Fincher (The Social Network, Gone Girl) usually does, this one goes for the kill. Mank is for the cinephiles, for brooding graduate students smoking behind the building asking if you've seen Kurosawa.
Following screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz, this odyssey examining Citizen Kane's writing comes out longer than the actual Citizen Kane. Most of it is Gary Oldman as Mankiewicz being drunk or wanting to be drunk. That's more fun than it sounds. His interactions and moral questioning around the old MGM world of William Randolph Hurst (Charles Dance of Game of Thrones), "rosebud" Marion Davis (Amanda Seyfried of Mamma Mia!) and studio head Louis B Mayer (Moneyball's Arliss Howard) frame the artistic questions that build the film.
The eternal question of art vs. commerce is the foundation. Mankiewicz knows 1930s Hollywood is merely pumping out propaganda for conservative (and financial) interests, so his leftist beliefs bring him to drink. His self-destruction brings his greatest work. Still, the world Mank inhabits is far more interesting than the man himself; Fincher notes his important contributions, but as any writer knows, the path to creativity is often paved with brooding and alcohol.
Fincher styles his opus as if it were out of the '30s. Well, sort of: The characters answer in smart one-liners with Sorkin-esque speed, and while the black and white glossy look is any film fanatic's dream, it's still confounding to consider why it was shot in a wide aspect ratio (2.20:1) rather than the standard Academy Ratio (1.375:1) of the time. It's a nitpick, sure, but the wider aspect ratio doesn't translate well to online streaming. Rather than knowing the subject instantly, for example, the viewer often has to search the frame.
Mank is a project of love from Fincher (his own father wrote the screenplay), but a film that might not work for you unless you're familiar with Citizen Kane and its history before going in. Interesting but exclusionary, Mank is notable for the performances and less notable for its cluttered screenplay. Nothing is earth-shattering, and amid Fincher's passion the question remains: Is the development of Citizen Kane really that interesting of a story?
+ Seyfried rocks it
– A bit too self-interested; Oldman lives up to his name
Directed by Fincher
With Oldman, Seyfried, Dance and Howard
Netflix, R, 131 min.