MANK – Review by Susan Granger

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Are you curious about how Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane (1941) got made?

Judging by Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood, A Star Is Born and La La Land, the movie industry loves its own past, so director David Fincher (The Social Network) wants to set the record straight, working from a witty, character-study backstory by his late father, Jack Fincher.

Citizen Kane was written by Herman J. Mankiewicz (Gary Goldman), a misanthropic alcoholic. Mank was convalescing from a broken leg in a cabin in the Mojave Desert, working on Orson Welles’ (Tom Burke) next project.

Told through flashbacks, that revolves around Mank’s relationship with crusty newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst (Charles Dance) and his much younger mistress, enticing actress Marion Davies (Amanda Seyfried). She calls Hearst “Pops,” telling Mank: “I live in a fishbowl, but I can have everything I want.”

Plus, there’s MGM’s legendary executives Irving Thalberg (Ferdinand Kingsley) and Louis B. Mayer (Arliss Howard). “Movies are a memory,” Mayer wryly explains. “We still own the product. That’s the magic of the movies.”

In cahoots with Hearst, these tycoons destroyed the 1934 California gubernatorial campaign of socialist/novelist Upton Sinclair, utilizing “fake news.”

Chameleon-like Gary Oldman (Oscar-winner as Winston Churchill in “The Darkest Hour”) is riveting as Mank, a scrappy raconteur who dissects America’s power structure, noting the difference between socialism and communism: “In socialism, everyone shares the wealth. In communism, everyone shares the poverty.”

Cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt films in black-and-white, achieving remarkable authenticity, aided by production designer Donald Graham Burt and costumer Trish Summerville, plus Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross’s jazzy score.

My only quibble is that 24 year-old wunderkind Orson Welles turns out to be a very minor character; I wish there’d been more about him.

FYI: Citizen Kane did not win Best Picture; that Oscar went to How Green Was My Valley. Although Kane was nominated in nine categories, only Mank & Welles won for Best Original Screenplay.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, Mank is a bitterly caustic 9. Aimed at cinephiles, it’s an immersive footnote to cinematic history.

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Susan Granger

Susan Granger

Susan Granger is a product of Hollywood. Her natural father, S. Sylvan Simon, was a director and producer at R.K.O., M.G.M. and Columbia Pictures; her adoptive father, Armand Deutsch, produced movies at M.G.M. As a child, Susan appeared in movies with Abbott & Costello, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Margaret O'Brien and Lassie. She attended Mills College in California, studying journalism with Pierre Salinger, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, Phi Beta Kappa, with highest honors in journalism. During her adult life, Susan has been on radio and television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic. Her newspaper reviews have been syndicated around the world, and she has appeared on American Movie Classics cable television. In addition, her celebrity interviews and articles have been published in REDBOOK, PLAYBOY, FAMILY CIRCLE, COSMOPOLITAN, WORKING WOMAN and THE NEW YORK TIMES, as well as in PARIS MATCH, ELLE, HELLO, CARIBBEAN WORLD, ISLAND LIFE, MACO DESTINATIONS, NEWS LIMITED NEWSPAPERS (Australia), UK DAILY MAIL, UK SUNDAY MIRROR, DS (France), LA REPUBBLICA (Italy), BUNTE (Germany), VIP TRAVELLER (Krisworld) and many other international publications through SSG Syndicate. Susan also lectures on the "Magic and Mythology of Hollywood" and "Don't Take It Personally: Conquering Criticism and other Survival Skills," originally published on tape by Dove Audio.