I think this movie could be enjoyed by someone who has never seen Citizen Kane. I think so, but I can’t be sure. What I do know is that for someone who has seen it at least a dozen times this movie is a valentine to Old Hollywood, and just chock full of information about the writing of the movie. Not the filming; the writing, which was done by Herman Mankiewicz while bedbound from a broken leg suffered in a car accident.
(There is a lively debate as to who was responsible for most, if not all, of the screenplay. Back in the ‘70s Pauline Kael advanced the proposition that it was almost entirely Mank, and Orson Welles attached his name to it after it was finished. At the Oscars, they shared the screenwriting award. You can come down on either side of the argument, because it’s not one that can’t be won any more than the thousand theories as to actually wrote Shakespeare’s plays. This movie says it was Mank, and I think so, too.) (I also think it was Shakespeare. Screw all those bullshit theories.)
Gary Oldman is one of the most versatile actors working today. There is no stereotypical “Gary Oldman part.” He won the Oscar, almost unrecognizable as Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour. Here he is terrific as alcoholic Mank. Amanda Seyfried is very good as poor Marion Davies, who could have been a comic superstar if it were not for the “help” she got from William Randolph Hearst. The film is populated by literally dozens of names a film buff will spot at once: Welles and Hearst, of course, Mank’s brother Joseph, L.B. Mayer, Irving Thalberg, John Houseman, Charles Lederer, David O. Selznick, Upton Sinclair, Ben Hecht, Charles MacArthur, Josef von Sternberg, John Gilbert, Norma Shearer, Eddie Cantor, and others.
It is filmed in glorious black and white. The director, David Fincher, deliberately lit and photographed it in old-fashioned ways, and included things like era-correct phony traveling shots in cars, where the background is clearly rear projected. The attention to detail is so complete that they even included the little circles that appear in the upper right-hand corner of the picture that were used to cue the projectionist that it was time to switch to the other projector and change reels! How long has it been since you’ve seen that in a new movie? It took me a while to be sure I was seeing it. Lee spotted it first. This movie is a total joy. I’ll be looking for the DVD.