"It isn't enough to tell us what a man did. You've got to tell us who he was.” This quote from 1941’s Citizen Kane smartly understands what makes for compelling writing and filmmaking, and it’s one of the strengths of Mank—David Fincher’s latest film and his first since 2014’s Gone Girl. Set for a limited theatrical run on November 13 before dropping December 4 on Netflix, this long-awaited return is cause enough to celebrate. But cinephiles have cause for great excitement, as The Social Network director turns his masterful lens to Old Hollywood. Mank charts the story of screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz, or Mank for short, and his journey to pen Citizen Kane for master filmmaker Orson Welles. Yes, the movie is a biopic—one that might be most relevant to Turner Classic Movie viewers and Criterion Channel subscribers. But Mank is also a David Fincher project, which means the entire endeavor has its individual pieces elevated into a more substantial, compelling whole.
Mank sets its gaze on the 60 days in which the titular writer (Gary Oldman) finds himself tasked with scripting Welles’ (Tom Burke) sprawling epic. Welles and producer John Houseman (Sam Troughton) sequester a recently-injured Mank on a quiet desert ranch outside of Los Angeles to ensure he follows through. German nurse Freda (Monika Grossman) and British typist Rita Alexander (Lily Collins) attend to the writer as he works. As the script comes together, the movie uses flashbacks—a direct homage to the narrative structure of Citizen Kane—to revisit his time writing for famed Hollywood studio Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. These moments offer a window into Old Hollywood and its denizens, including authoritative MGM head Louis B. Mayer (Arliss Howard) as well as Mank’s frequent intersections with newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst (Charles Dance) and his wife Marion Davies (Amanda Seyfried). Viewers of Citizen Kane will know Mank drew from his time with Hearst and Davies to inform the movie’s overall story and main characters.