A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Mank is director David Fincher's black-and-white period drama about renowned screenwriter Herman J. "Mank" Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman) working with hotshot director Orson Welles (Tom Burke) on the first draft of Citizen Kane. The movie details how Mank based the screenplay on the life of newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst, including his relationship with Marion Davies. Mank is an unrepentant alcoholic who often drinks to excess, up to the point of vomiting, stumbling, and nearly fainting. As was common for the late 1930s and early '40s, adults also smoke cigarettes and mention/take drugs, sometimes adding medicinal toppers to their drinks. One character dies by suicide using a handgun (it's heard but not shown). Language is occasionally strong, with a couple of characters known for their colorful swearing and use of "f--k," "s--t," etc. Although there are no love scenes, couples do embrace, dance, and kiss briefly, and, in one conversation, two men discuss whether "Rosebud" is a reference to a woman's body parts. Families who watch the movie -- which promotes empathy and integrity -- with their teens will have plenty to discuss and may benefit from watching Citizen Kane together afterward.
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What's the story?
Director David Fincher's black-and-white period drama MANK is the behind-the-scenes story of how screenwriter Herman J. "Mank" Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman) collaborated with wunderkind filmmaker Orson Welles (Tom Burke) to write the first draft of the Citizen Kane screenplay. Welles, via friend/frequent collaborator John Houseman (Sam Troughton), set up Mank -- who was recovering from injuries sustained in a car accident -- in a country home with a personal typist (Lily Collins) and a nurse. Mank is given a couple of months to turn in a draft; he draws inspiration from recollections of his career working for MGM, as well as his friendship with newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst (Charles Dance) and Hearst's girlfriend, actress Marion Davies (Amanda Seyfried). Based on a screenplay by the director's late father, Jack Fincher, this is an "inside Hollywood" drama that pays tribute to a gifted, if haunted and substance-dependent, writer.
Is it any good?
There's something extraordinary about an auteur like Fincher paying tribute to the importance of the screenwriter, who, in the case of this fabulously performed drama, is his late father. Oldman, who's played everyone from Sid Vicious to Winston Churchill, continues to excel at immersing himself in real-life characters. He's in top form as the hard-drinking, intellectual writer who no longer has a steady studio gig but has been tapped by Welles to write the first draft of his epic. This is a talky film, with Mank giving speeches about everything from the Germans' war strategies (it's 1940) to the many ways he hates Louis B. Mayer to the reasons he detests the ways moguls use and abuse everyone for their selfish purposes. Oldman shines best when he's going toe to toe with Dance, a formidable actor who was born to play powerful men, and Seyfried, who's terrific as Davies. She might have been dismissed as Hearst's real-life "blond Betty Boop," but Seyfried's version of Davies is smarter than she seems, witty, funny, and kind.
Visually, the film is stunning, with striking, relevant use of black and white. Fincher employs his signature wide shots effectively and composes the scenes to stress Mank's state of mind. For a movie set decades ago, it explores many current themes, particularly related to the rise of political theater and how MGM helped spread misinformation about Democratic Party gubernatorial candidate Upton Sinclair, who hoped to address poverty. Dance's quiet but powerful comment about Mank, and perhaps Hollywood writers in general, being the "organ grinders' monkeys" -- puppets for the far more powerful -- is also startlingly thought-provoking. Fincher is a world-class filmmaker, and Mank is an impressive film, a powerful study of who -- and what -- led to what some consider the greatest movie of all time.
Talk to your kids about ...
Does the movie make you want to see the actual Citizen Kane now that you've seen a version of what led up to it?
How did the movie make you think about the so-called "golden era" of studio films? Do you want to learn more about the famous movies that got made during those years? Have you seen any already?
- In theaters: November 13, 2020
- On DVD or streaming: December 4, 2020
- Cast: Gary Oldman, Lily Collins, Amanda Seyfried
- Director: David Fincher
- Studio: Netflix
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Arts and Dance, History
- Character strengths: Empathy, Integrity
- Run time: 132 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: some language
- Awards/Honors: Academy Award
- Last updated: April 25, 2021
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