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30 Years In the Making: David Fincher’s ‘Mank’ Has the Hallmarks of a Modern Masterpiece

Audiences are primed for a cinematic hit.

David Fincher Mank Modern Masterpiece Metaflix
David Fincher Mank Modern Masterpiece Metaflix

A CliffsNotes booklet summarizing what it took to bring Netflix’s upcoming “Mank” to life would simply note two Finchers, a thirty-year-old screenplay, and one of the finest leading actors of a generation. Round out that summary with a key supporting turn by actress Amanda Seyfried along with the pitch perfect musical stylings of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, and the end result is what most critics are already calling the best film of the year.

For film buffs, the assemblage of all that creative talent harkens back to the Golden Age of Hollywood in which the likes of Herman Mankiewicz and Orson Welles teamed up with Gregg Toland and Bernard Herrmann to make “Citizen Kane,” the greatest motion picture of all time. For everyone else, the aforementioned contemporary names represent a bright shining beacon of hope that a cinematic masterpiece may still emerge from the waking nightmare that is the year 2020.

Looking back at the tattered remnants of this year’s theatrical release schedule, films such as “Wonder Woman 1984,” “Mulan,” and “Tenet” were supposed to be the bright spots of a genuinely exciting run of summer productions. As of this writing, “Wonder Woman 1984” has had its release date punted some three times, with its fourth calendar spot, Dec. 25, in serious doubt. “Mulan” came and went, resulting in Disney bringing even more dishonor to the film world than did the film itself, with the media behemoth’s decision to charge an outrageous $30 to stream the movie via Disney Plus.

Then there’s “Tenet,” the film that Christopher Nolan and the brain trust at Warner Bros. billed as the surefire savior of Hollywood. Together they sold the film as being so gripping and grand that wary audiences would surely risk their own health by flocking to theaters in the middle of a pandemic to see it. In reality, “Tenet” has garnered middling reviews while racking up myriad complaints, earning just $53 million at the domestic box office.

In contrast, Netflix hasn’t made any bold proclamations regarding “Mank,” one of the most highly anticipated film releases of 2020. Earlier last month, the streaming giant simply began their marketing push for the film by quietly releasing a series of photo stills featuring Gary Oldman inhabiting the glamorous world of 1930s Hollywood. In turn, audiences understand that “Mank” marks an eagerly awaited return to familiar territory for both director and actor, who have each strayed from the world of big-budget blockbusters in recent years to pursue alternative projects.

For Fincher’s part, he has spent the previous three years at the helm of the lauded Netflix television psychological crime thriller “Mindhunter,” directing seven episodes and serving as executive director on all nineteen. “Mank” represents Fincher’s first time directing a feature film since 2014’s “Gone Girl,” which earned him a Golden Globe nomination for Best Director.

Alternatively, Oldman has remained within the world of film, but has chosen to take on lower profile roles in movies that have generally been tepidly received. His four most recently released projects, all from 2019, “The Courier,” “The Laundromat,” “Mary,” and “Killers Anonymous,” have Metacritic ratings of 625731, and 22, respectively. Oldman’s most recent role of critical acclaim was his portrayal of Winston Churchill in the 2017 hit “Darkest Hour,” earning the esteemed actor a painfully long overdue first Oscar.

The burgeoning buzz and excitement surrounding the upcoming release of “Mank” brings with it considerable potential for those involved to earn awards season accolades. Shot in black-and-white as a 1930’s-style biopic, the film tells the story of celebrated screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz’s work on the screenplay for Orson Welles’ 1941 classic “Citizen Kane,” which itself is widely considered the greatest movie ever made. “Mank” chronicles the drama between Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman) and Welles (Tom Burke), specifically their infamous dispute over the screenwriting credit.

The film is deeply personal for director David Fincher for myriad reasons, the most notable of which being that his father, Jack Fincher, a journalist turned screenwriter, wrote the script in the early 90s at the recommendation of his son. Despite David’s filmmaking success soon thereafter, the story of “Mank” still went unmade, with the elder Fincher eventually passing in 2003.

“Mank” also serves as another a reunion of sorts, bringing Fincher’s longtime composers Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross back into the mix for the score. The pair previously won the Golden Globe and the Academy Award for Best Original Score for 2010’s “The Social Network.” In true Reznor fashion, the composer said last year he would only be using period-authentic instruments to compose the music for “Mank.”

What’s more, Fincher’s penchant for perfectionism will be on full display. According to Amanda Seyfried, who co-stars as Hollywood legend Marion Davies, the famously persnickety director had no qualms shooting scenes dozens of times, even spending numerous days and upwards of hundreds of takes to get everything in a particular sequence just right.

“I was part of scenes with tons of people in it and we would do it for an entire week,” Seyfried said in a June interview with Collider. “I can’t tell you how many takes we did, but I would guess 200, maybe I could be wrong and could be way off. I could be underestimating by five days of one scene when I didn’t have one line. ‘You think I can just relax?’ No, because there are probably about nine or ten different camera angles that had been on me at one point.”

In addition to Oldman and Seyfried, the “Mank” ensemble cast also features Tom Burke as Orson Welles, Lily Collins as Mankiewicz’s secretary Rita Alexander, Tuppence Middleton as Herman’s wife Sara Mankiewicz, and Charles Dance as William Randolph Hearst.

Netflix announced the film is set to have a limited theatrical release Nov. 13 before hitting the streaming service Dec. 4. Similar to last year’s “The Irishman” and “Marriage Story,” the streaming giant is expected push the film as a serious awards contender. If the theatrical release of “Mank” were to be cancelled, however, a new Oscar rule for 2021 will still allow the film to be eligible for the Academy Awards, even if it just streams.

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