MANK: David Fincher Makes His Long-Awaited Return

Ladies and gentlemen, David Fincher is back. After the release of Gone Girl in 2014, the Fight Club, Se7en, and Zodiac director took a 6-year-long break to executive produce the Netflix show Mindhunter (which he also directed a few episodes of), but the legend has finally returned to gift us with another cinematic jewel. From the moment its first trailer dropped, it was evident that Mank was a future classic in the making, with Fincher returning to the biographical storytelling style he perfected with The Social Network almost ten years prior, but the jury was still out on how it would hold up among the ranks of his other works. After watching the film, I’m happy to report that Fincher has not lost an ounce of his prowess since Gone Girl. Mank follows the struggles of Herman J. Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman), the Citizen Kane screenwriter embarking on the tumultuous race to finish the screenplay of Orson Welles’ 1941 film. Mank confirms that Fincher can take a time period often underrepresented in biopics and not only inject it with life, but give it his own signature flair that separates it from other entries in the subgenre.

There’s a lot going on in Mank, and the best way to begin to approach it is to remove all labels from it. It’s not as much of a love letter to Hollywood as it is a re-evaluation of it. While many films that transport viewers into the heart of old Hollywood tend to glamorize its grandeur, Fincher chooses to take a more distinguished approach to the material. Fincher has always had a keen eye for a particular type of formality in his work, and his latest film continues that trend by tailing a specificity of the time period that teeters on the balance beam between adoration and a lack of such. Fincher assesses this time period through a lens of artifice, concocting a dual whirlwind of real-life figures and, yes, blatant historical inaccuracies.

MANK: David Fincher Makes His Long-Awaited Return
source: Netflix

The way one chooses to react to those inaccuracies will all depend on the viewer, of course, and maybe that was Fincher’s goal. He and his films are no strangers to stirring conversation, so it wouldn’t be completely out of the question. Both going into Mank and coming out of it, well-knowledgeable viewers’ opinions on the history behind the film as well as the people involved will undeniably be divisive, but maybe that’s for the better. A film like this needs discussion behind it, and there’s plenty of things thrown into its script that will certainly stimulate that.

A Unique Look at Old Hollywood

Something that immediately sticks out in Mank is how much of a stylistic departure it is from Fincher’s other works. While it does retain the intricate intimacy he always manages to convey through lighting, dialogue, and framing of his subjects and their surroundings, the digital black-and-white texture and feel of the film adds an interesting layer of complexity to the material, and while one can dream of how it might’ve looked had it been shot on film, the digital cinematography (shot by Erik Messerschmidt) is still overwhelmingly gorgeous in every frame. It’s certainly a lot more slick and polished than some might be expecting, but the lush monochromatic tones simply work magic with the imagery. Every shot is composed equally as articulate as the one before it, and there’s an almost-dreamlike quality to the craftsmanship on display. This is so deeply grounded in its technicalities at points that the viewer actually begins to lose the sense of the color around them as the composition of every scene envelops them in its aura.

Something else that sticks with the viewer is the script, but not in the way you would expect. While it is excellently written from the first scene to the last, it also eternalizes Fincher’s relationship with his late father Jack, who died over a decade and a half ago. Jack Fincher wrote Mank‘s script sometime before his death and as a result, Mank feels like Fincher’s tribute to his father, a swan song in a formidable fashion that acts as a no-holds-barred legacy piece. Thankfully, the screenplay is dazzling. Using Mankiewicz as a gateway to multiple sides of the same coin works very well when looking at the film both as a whole and split up between its core narrative.

MANK: David Fincher Makes His Long-Awaited Return
source: Netflix

Fincher frequently flashes back to scenes that take place years before the film’s main story does. While all parts combined form a resoundingly impressive whole, splitting the film up in such a unique way is a perfectly respectable choice. For every scene that takes place in the “present” time period of the film, it’s followed by a flashback, which gives context to the larger scale of the narrative and helps shape a wider emotional attachment to it, both within subjects such as Mank himself as well as those surrounding him, most notably actress Marion Davies (Amanda Seyfried).

Top-Tier Performances

If there is one thing that fans of Fincher can count on, it’s that he constantly reinvents himself from a structural standpoint within the confines of his narratives. However, something else that they can rely on is that the screenplays of his films will always pair perfectly with the actors chosen to play specific roles. Between Jesse Eisenberg in The Social Network, Rooney Mara in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, and Rosamund Pike in Gone Girl, his stories often intertwine with the actors in immeasurably interesting and evolving ways. While Mank is a film that has a lot going for it outside of its cast, this is an instance of a piece of cinema that is indistinguishable without the backing power of its performances.

Gary Oldman carries every scene he has to utter victory. His presence on-screen has a staying power that doesn’t evaporate once throughout the film’s runtime. Amanda Seyfried delivers the role of her career in an absolutely radiant portrayal of Marion Davies that will leave viewers floored. However, it’s Lily Collins that runs away with the most emotionally resonant performance in the film, her scenes with Oldman never failing to evoke the most tender of sentiments. The supporting players are wonderful too, engaging the leads in moments of dialogue that allow both sides to build around each other in different, inventive ways.

MANK: David Fincher Makes His Long-Awaited Return
source: Netflix

Frequent collaborators of Fincher, Trent Reznor, and Atticus Ross, return once again to provide another luminous score that serves as a gorgeous accompaniment to the equally ravishing film, as well as an exquisite standalone musical experience in its own right. Reznor and Ross tackle something completely different here than they have in contributions past, and it comes as no surprise that they manage to pull it off flawlessly. The jazz feel of their score here is certainly a change of pace from past works such as their Girl With the Dragon Tattoo soundtrack, which was an astoundingly abrasive album, but it’s worth every second.


While Mank isn’t David Fincher’s best work, it certainly places quite high in his repertoire. Fincher and his team have delivered an infectious work of cinematic genius that functions as many things: a Herman Mankiewicz biopic, a dually cynical and romantic examination of 1930s Hollywood, and a glimpse towards a not-so-distant future. Like last year’s Once Upon a Time in…Hollywood, it delivers a layered portrait of the filmmaking process by intrinsically providing an introspective look into the life of a man weighing himself down with predispositions in a newly changing world. It contains a unique structural singularity that carries throughout its entire running time yet never once feels unearned.

Every member of the cast is acting at the top of their game, each of them bringing to the table a necessary piece of a whole and combining their talents to form that whole. Oldman, Seyfried, and Collins give career-best performances that will surely go down as some of the finest of 2020. This is a highly ambitious and audacious film and, unsurprisingly, a strikingly confident artistic masterstroke. To put it simply, everything about Mank is conceptualized and delivered upon in spectacular fashion. It’s an immaculate return to the fold from Fincher, and undoubtedly one of the best films of the year.

What’s your favorite David Fincher film? Let us know in the comments!

Mank is currently showing in theaters. It releases on Netflix on December 4, 2020.

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