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.