Despite Fincher’s highly-calibrated craft and an excellent performance by Gary Oldman, this is way too dense and dull an ode to Old Hollywood to even be considered remotely compelling.
Dir. David Fincher
2020 | USA | Biography / Drama | 131 mins | 2.20:1 | English, German & Latin
NC16 (passed clean) for some language
Cast: Gary Oldman, Amanda Seyfried, Lily Collins
Plot: 1930s Hollywood is reevaluated through the eyes of scathing social critic and alcoholic screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz as he races to finish the screenplay of Citizen Kane.
Subject Matter: Moderate – Classical Hollywood, Screenwriting
Narrative Style: Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse
I have to admit, there were times when I felt bored watching Mank. But at least it’s a tad better than The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2006), which is to me David Fincher’s weakest film.
Mank suffers from a script (penned by Fincher’s late father) that is way too dense to appeal to even cinephiles with some knowledge of Classical Hollywood, let alone any random soul who happens to chance upon it on Netflix.
There are too many references to real-life figures at the time (be it Hollywood figures or politicians) to the point that their names become no more interesting than a statistic in a report.
Its structure, heavily reliant on flashbacks that operate in a non-linear fashion, is mostly uninspired and messy—in fact, the flashbacks are some of the least compelling parts of the film.
“You cannot capture a man’s entire life in two hours. All you can hope is to leave the impression of one.”
Granted, craft-wise, Mank is expectedly top-notch, with Fincher’s highly-calibrated visual style on display. We also get an excellent performance by Gary Oldman, who plays the titular character famous for co-writing Orson Welles’ landmark Citizen Kane (1941), winning a screenwriting Oscar in the process.
A genius writer who suffered from alcohol addiction, Mank’s cantankerous attitude also did not win him any friends. I wished the film made us care more for his character and the choices he made.
The supporting characters around him also don’t fare any better. Most annoyingly, there’s a lack of tension within the narrative, making it mostly flat and dull.
Overall, Fincher’s ‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’ is disappointing; instead of making us pine for a nostalgic past, or resonate with the achievements of a man sidelined by film history, we are asked to play catch-up as the narrative unfolds.
I don’t expect to be spoon-fed of course, but Mank feels too self-important a picture to care about its audience.