Gary Oldman plays Herman Mankiewicz’s, the scribe behind Citizen Kane, in Netflix’s Mank.
A long time ago, while perusing an online message board dedicated to discussing cinema, I came across a casual discussion of what differentiates a “movie” from a “film,” and that conversation has stuck with me. One poster posited that a movie is any type of moving picture whereas a film is a movie that has deeper artistic merit and cultural significance.
All films are movies, but not all movies are films, in other words. This differentiation might come off as silly (not to mention snobbish), as the two words are synonyms in almost every way that matters. But to call certain popcorn flicks “films” doesn’t feel right to me, even if I happen to adore them as movies. I review a lot of movies, but it is rare that I get to review a film. The beautifully shot, scored, and acted Mank is, undoubtedly, a film; although it is also one that struggled to keep my attention.
The story of screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz and his writing of the iconic Citizen Kane, Mank feels like a newly unearthed artifact from the past. Shot in black and white (complete with occasional simulated flaws in the physical film) with monoaural sound (meaning that everything was recorded on one track, as was the way up until the mid-20th century) and scored by a large, classical band (playing music written by Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails, of all people), Mank will make you feel like you have been transported to the golden age of Hollywood. Gary Oldman, a phenomenal actor known for completely enveloping himself in his roles, is in rare form as the brilliant Mankiewicz himself, and his supporting cast, particularly Amanda Seyfried as Marion Davies, is incredible as well. The script fully captures the wit that Mankiewicz was known for with snappy dialogue, and the clever non-sequential storytelling (something Citizen Kane is also noted for) is easy to follow throughout thanks to creative transitions that simulate a script being written in real-time. There’s also the fact that the movie just looks great; one piece of feedback I heard before watching was that you could take any screenshot of the film and frame it on your wall, and this turned out to not be an exaggeration. The cinematography in Mank, like everything else, is stunning.
The only problem is that I occasionally found it difficult to care about the subject matter being portrayed. Mank is a movie about making movies and is full of studio politicking and, occasionally, actual politicking. More often than not, I found the subtleties and finer points of the discussions presented going over my head, causing me to lose interest. It is a fantastically made film, but it has a hard time being an entertaining one. I’m not asking for a random shoot-out with unexplained and anachronistic cowboys to be thrown in or anything like that … There is nothing this movie could have done to make the subject more interesting to me, because the baseline premise did not capture my enthusiasm. But if you have a love for film, the steps that go into making them, and the flawed characters behind them, do not let this beauty pass you by.
Mank is now available on Netflix.