Herman J. Mankiewicz is not anybody’s first choice for a prestige Hollywood biopic. He may have co-written one of the greatest films of all time, Citizen Kane (and that’s debated), but to most people the name means nothing.

Perhaps it’s that sense of wrongly forgotten genius that inspired Jack Fincher, the late father of director David, to write such a hagiographic script, immortalising Mank at the expense of blundering upstart Orson Welles (Tom Burke).

It’s not an unusual choice for a biopic, but it does lead to a curiously inert film. Gary Oldman quips his way through Mank in the title role like a 1930s Seinfeld, earning a few laughs but killing any stakes or drama. He’s simply too unflappable and smug to prompt any sympathy. The problems thrown his way are shrugged off and even his functioning alcoholism is treated as a comic grace note rather than a curse, even considering it would eventually be the cause of his death.

If the normally flawless Fincher manages to prove one thing here it’s that creating a complex, entertaining and tragic film about a complex, entertaining and tragic man is a lot harder than Citizen Kane made it look. The irony might be that even as the Finchers’ film seeks to redeem Mank and give him the lion’s share of the credit for Citizen Kane’s script, it can only pale in comparison to that true masterpiece.

Fincher’s direction is meticulous and engrossing in its evocation of classic Hollywood, and the craft on display is impressive. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross deliver a beautiful score and Erik Messerschmidt shoots in stunning, ominous black and white Panavision. The problem is that Jack Fincher’s script is too in love with Mank and the idea that he has been wronged to truly deliver as a piece of drama.



CAST: Gary Oldman, Amanda Seyfried, Lily Collins, Arliss Howard, Charles Dance

DIRECTOR: David Fincher

WRITER: Jack Fincher

SYNOPSIS: Follows screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz’s tumultuous development of Orson Welles’ iconic masterpiece Citizen Kane (1941).