David Fincher’s ‘Mank’ Scores Early Raves: ‘Luxuriant Cinephile Swoon of a Movie’

Netflix film will debut December 4

Last Updated: November 6, 2020 @ 11:37 AM

Film critics love David Fincher’s “Mank,” a movie starring Gary Oldman about the making of the greatest film of all time “Citizen Kane” that is swimming in Old Hollywood nostalgia.

Critics have called “Mank” a “dense, luxuriant cinephile swoon of a movie” and have praised Oldman’s performance as “one of his more engaging performances in recent memory,” not to mention the lush, black and white cinematography that at times takes cues from “Kane.” It currently has a 93% score on Rotten Tomatoes.

“Though forged in a meticulous 1930s backdrop that merges historical detail with the style and tone of that era, ‘Mank’ is hardly a playful throwback,” Eric Kohn writes for Indiewire. “Fincher has made a cerebral psychodrama that rewards the engaged cinephile audience in its crosshairs, but even when cold to the touch, the movie delivers a complex and insightful look at American power structures and the potential for a creative spark to rankle their foundations.”

Set in 1930s Hollywood, “Mank” grapples with the cinematic controversy over whom was most responsible for “Citizen Kane” — director and star Orson Welles or his satirist writing partner Herman J. Mankiewicz. It’s a topic that many film connoisseurs know a lot about and are eager to pick apart. That said, critics did acknowledge that “Mank” has a labyrinth plot that might turn off more casual viewers, requiring the utmost attention to track the film’s narrative threads and time jumps that mimic the narrative structure of “Kane” itself.

“A basic familiarity with ‘Citizen Kane,’ or at least an ability to tell Orson Welles from H.G. Wells, should suffice, and if that’s asking a lot of an idle Netflix surfer, well, tough: In this dense, luxuriant cinephile swoon of a movie, you either sink or swim,” Justin Chang wrote in the L.A. Times.

Of course, critics have frequently noted one of the movie’s lines — “You cannot capture a man’s entire life in two hours. All you can hope is to leave the impression of one.” And in that same sense, it would be impossible to capture the entire breadth of opinions about Fincher’s intricate, complicated film that will surely challenge audiences. Some critics pushed back on the idea that the film is a “love letter” to Old Hollywood for how cynical Fincher and his father Jack Fincher’s screenplay feels, and other critics couldn’t warm to the film beyond its surface-level charms.

“Whatever it is, “Mank” is not, as several have proclaimed, a “love letter” to old Hollywood, or to the movies themselves, and I can’t fathom why anyone would think so,” Glenn Kenny wrote in RogerEbert.com.

“The movie still feels distant. It’s a movie I desperately want to love, yet no matter how hard I try, in the end I just wind up admiring it instead,” Mike Ryan said in Uproxx. “Even now, as I have the movie in my head, attempting to write about it, I love so many aspects of it that it’s really puzzling why I don’t feel as fond toward the sum of its parts.”

“Mank” is already assumed to be a major Oscar player, and TheWrap’s Steve Pond predicts it has a chance to capture the same nominations that “Citizen Kane” did (nine) decades earlier. But all the positive notes from critics certainly shouldn’t hurt its chances.

Netflix is releasing “Mank” in select theaters and on the streaming service on December 4. Check out more critic reviews below:

Alonso Duralde, TheWrap

Memorable acting, striking cinematography, and a provocative examination of the nexus between entertainment and media and politics — that’s part of what’s kept the legend of “Citizen Kane” alive for decades, and it’s enough to make “Mank” necessary, if not entirely fulfilling, viewing for film lovers.

Owen Gleiberman, Variety

in “Mank,” David Fincher’s raptly intricate and enticing movie about Herman J. Mankiewicz, the fabled screenwriter of ’30s and ’40s Hollywood, and how he wrote the script for “Citizen Kane,” the act of creation is just one of many things that flow by. That’s part of what gives the movie its uniquely atmospheric, at times tumultuous tone of you-are-there authenticity. “Mank” is a tale of Old Hollywood that’s more steeped in Old Hollywood — its glamour and sleaze, its layer-cake hierarchies, its corruption and glory — than just about any movie you’ve seen, and the effect is to lend it a dizzying time-machine splendor.

Chris Evangelista, /Film

At first blush, ‘Mank’ isn’t your typical David Fincher flick. Yes, it’s gorgeously mounted and meticulously crafted. But it doesn’t feel like Fincher’s other movies. And yet, when you look closer…it does. Because like all great Fincher films, ‘Mank’ is about obsession. The obsession with getting something right. The obsession with creating good art. The obsessions with being remembered long after the whole world has faded to black.

Justin Chang, Los Angeles Times

Which is not to suggest that “Mank,” shot in gorgeous black-and-white and oozing visual and verbal elegance from every pore, is explicitly about the making of “Citizen Kane.” Nor does it attempt a standard cradle-to-the-grave deconstruction of its eponymous hero; as Mank himself notes in a wryly self-reflexive touch, “You cannot capture a man’s entire life in two hours. All you can hope is to leave the impression of one.” And on that level, “Mank” more than succeeds. Its aim is to illuminate the prickly, endearing, booze-swilling soul of Herman J. Mankiewicz, a veteran drama critic who, like other brilliant men of letters who flocked to Hollywood in the 1920s, brought stiletto-sharp dialogue, airtight plot construction and astounding productivity to bear on a mass-entertainment medium.

Eric Kohn, Indiewire

Though forged in a meticulous 1930s backdrop that merges historical detail with the style and tone of that era, “Mank” is hardly a playful throwback. Fincher has made a cerebral psychodrama that rewards the engaged cinephile audience in its crosshairs, but even when cold to the touch, the movie delivers a complex and insightful look at American power structures and the potential for a creative spark to rankle their foundations.

Glenn Kenny, RogerEbert.com

I do know that with Gary Oldman in the title role and a superb supporting cast, Fincher has crafted an entertainment that’s provocative, pointed, ruthlessly entertaining, and in some respects, particularly near the end, a little bit infuriating.

Mike Ryan, Uproxx

All the ingredients are present in David Fincher’s Mank. It’s an extremely well-crafted film, with beautiful acting performances, directed by one of the best directors working today in an almost orgasmic retro style that will have film nerds pointing at the screen just like that Leonardo DiCaprio meme. Yet (no movie review starts like that without a “yet” or a “however”), the movie still feels distant. It’s a movie I desperately want to love, yet no matter how hard I try, in the end I just wind up admiring it instead. Even now, as I have the movie in my head, attempting to write about it, I love so many aspects of it that it’s really puzzling why I don’t feel as fond toward the sum of its parts.

Lindsey Bahr, Associated Press

The film is wry and observant about the movie business and all the things that haven’t changed, as well as those that have. That it’s a Netflix production is a deafening statement of its own. But it also has a beating heart thanks in large part to Seyfried’s Davies, who beautifully reclaims the life and agency of a woman who history and “Citizen Kane” reduced to Hearst’s showgirl mistress. Mank and Davies are kindred spirits and she is the moral compass of the ridiculous world they inhabit. When Mank is eviscerating everyone in a drunken rant, you’re looking for her reaction.

Leah Greenblatt, Entertainment Weekly

What the script — penned by Fincher’s late father, Jack, who passed away in 2003 — never quite cracks is the machinery of the creative process. On the rare occasions that Mank actually gets down to the business of writing, he tends to do so as if channeling directly from some enchanted, untraceable fount; not so much a man as a medium. The story then becomes less a forensic accounting of a masterpiece than a bittersweet ode to a certain slice of old Hollywood: part love letter, part cautionary tale, and still somehow a mystery.