Mank is a nearly perfect film — except for one fatal flaw

Gabriella Geisinger
·4-min read

From Digital Spy

Reviews for Mank can be described in general as just shy of glowing. Save for a few negative comments, most critics seem to agree that David Fincher's quasi-true story is a beautifully executed, phenomenally acted, meandering-but-engaging film.

And they're right; we, too, were lost in its cinematography, the parallels to its subject material (Citizen Kane) and the sheer scale of it all. While Gary Oldman does a great turn as the titular Herman Mankiewicz, the unsung heroes of Mank are undoubtedly the women.

In particular, Amanda Seyfried delivers the best one-liners, wholly encompassing the ethereal but grounded talent of Marion Davies, the real-life mistress of William Randolph Hearst and believed to be the inspiration for Citizen Kane's pitiful Susan Alexander Kane. Fincher's Mank tries to set this record straight (as did Welles in his lifetime), and Seyfried plays Marion as if she knows she's doomed, but can't really say why.

Photo credit: NETFLIX - Netflix
Photo credit: NETFLIX - Netflix

The other, even-less-sung heroine of Fincher's Mank is the criminally underrated Tuppence Middleton as Sara Mankiewicz, Herman's wife. Often referred to as 'poor Sara' by all of Mank's acquaintances. she is his 'long-suffering' wife, but plays the role as a fierce-minded woman who knows exactly who her husband is, and has chosen to stay, enjoying the bizarre and unpredictable ride that is their life together.

Herein, however, lies a problem. While we're grateful Middleton got the role, and she certainly lends it humour and dimension that other actresses might not be able to, her casting shines a light on Hollywood's still-backwards view of women.

Photo credit: Netflix
Photo credit: Netflix

Oldman is 62, and during the years that Mank takes place, Mankiewicz would have been in his mid-40s, as he was born in 1897. Should Fincher have cast a younger man? Maybe, but let's presume that Oldman was his first and only choice for the role, and that in Mank he can 'pass' as 45.

Middleton is 33, nearly half Oldman's real age, and while we would never begrudge anyone for loving someone older (your writer's parents were 28 years apart) the issue is this: Sara Mankiewicz was the same age as her husband. They were both born in 1897.

Watching Mank, you'd have no idea this was the reality. Nothing about either character's age is ever mentioned (and Middleton doesn't look 45). Fincher leaves it up to the audience to determine the dynamic in their relationship, which he does effectively tease out through quipped dialogue and sideways glances.

Photo credit: Netflix
Photo credit: Netflix

That she is – in the movie's universe, anyway – apparently at least ten years his junior is never mentioned, which... if it were only ten years wouldn't, we suppose, be a big deal anyway. Which brings us back to our initial question:

Why? Why create a remarkable age gap on screen? What does changing this detail about a real life woman achieve? Would the same strain, the same passion, not crackle between Oldman and, say, Rose Byrne (41) or Rachel Weisz (50)?

We aren't bemoaning Middleton's casting – far from it, but rather highlighting the bizarre lens through which female characters are viewed: age is something that is meant to be manipulated. If Fincher's desire was to highlight a power imbalance, why choose age as the means to the end when, in real life, age was of no consequence to them?

Photo credit: Netflix
Photo credit: Netflix

It is a niggling detail that highlights Mank's general problem with women. To paraphrase Slate's Dana Stevens, Mank wants to have its cake and eat it too, particularly in the scene featuring "a stripper in pasties to act as their stenographer – one of a few moments in which this mostly male-centric movie lampoons Hollywood sexism while arguably reaping its benefits."

Does this torpedo the film? Of course not. But to let it go by without even noting just further perpetuates the bizarre idea that women are plot devices for men, and even real women cannot escape being squished into moulds that serve male characters best, regardless of their truths.

Mank is now available to watch on Netflix

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