Tilting At Windmills

Mank

by George Wolf

Since its release in 1941, Citizen Kane has earned such a prodigious place in film and popular culture that the utterance of merely one word can summon it.

And as much as Orson Welles’s masterwork has been dissected over the years, Mank reveals its essence in unique and wondrous ways.

Director/co-writer David Fincher (who honors his late father Jack’s script by listing him as the sole writer) takes us into Citizen Kane through the shadowy side entrance of screenwriter Herman “Mank” Mankiewicz. Officially, Mank and Welles shared the Kane writing credit, though just who did the heavy lifting is still a source of debate for film historians.

Fincher’s view is clear. But even the dissenters may feel powerless to the seductive pull of Mank‘s immersion into Kane‘s creation, and to the stupendous lead performance that drives it.

As Mankiewicz (“and then out of nowhere, a ‘Z’!”), Gary Oldman is out-of-this world-good. His Mank is a charmer, a gambler and a frequent drunk, bedridden by injuries from a car accident and under the gun to deliver Welles a script in just 90…no make that 60 days. And no drinking!

Tick. Tock.

The first few pages bring a critique that “none of it sings,” which is funny, because all of this sings.

Fincher’s rapid-fire dialogue is beautifully layered and lyrically precise, more like the final draft of a script than authentic conversations, which only reinforces the film’s commitment to honoring the power of writing. Onscreen typeface and script direction transition the flashbacks to Mank’s years in the Hollywood studio system of the 1930s, running in social circles with power brokers such as Louis B. Mayer (Arliss Howard), Irving Thalberg (Ferdinand Kingsley), Kane inspiration William Randolph Hearst (Charles Dance), and Hearst’s not-so-dumb blonde mistress Marion Davies (a terrific Amanda Seyfried).

Oldman expertly sells Mank’s truth-to-power rebellion as a sly reaction to his own feelings of powerlessness. His charm as a “court jester” belies a growing angst about America’s power structure that Welles (Tom Burke) is eager to illustrate.

And though much of Mank‘s power is verbal (just try to catch a breath during Oldman’s drunken Don Quixote speech), Fincher crafts a luscious visual landscape. Buoyed by Erik Messerschmidt’s gorgeous B&W cinematography, Fincher recreates the era with sharp period detail and tips his hat to Welles with Kane-esque uses of shadow, forced perspective and one falling glass of booze.

Talk of “getting people back to the theaters” and manufactured news will feel especially relevant, but Mank provides a nearly endless peeling of satisfying layers. So much more than a story about how a classic story was told, it’s a sweeping ode to the power of courageous art, no matter how flawed the artist.

A Sincere Form of Flattery

The Imitation Game

by George Wolf

Here’s the thing about historical dramas: they’re not documentaries. Factual liberties are going to be taken by filmmakers searching for the right mix of and accuracy and emotional punch. The Imitation Game is one that almost scores a knockout.

It manages to be both an exciting historical mystery and a heartfelt look into the complicated soul at its center.

Benedict Cumberbatch is Oscar-worthy as Alan Turing, the English mathematician and all-around brilliant thinker who played a major role in cracking the Nazi’s “unbreakable” Enigma code during World War II.

Director Morton Tyldum (the underseen 2011 Norwegian gem Headhunters) expertly weaves the breathless quest by Turing and his team of code breakers together with Turing’s personal journey of loneliness and longing. Set designs that appear too tidy for 1940s wartime are negated by Tyldum’s impeccable sense of pacing, as he simultaneously builds the tension in both plot lines while steering clear of excess melodrama.

He’s blessed with an impressive debut screenplay from Graham Moore, adapting Andrew Hodges’ book “Alan Turing:¬† the Enigma”. This is a film about secrets of all kinds, and Moore’s taut, nuanced script covers all angles in exploring their wages.

Cumberbatch leads the stellar ensemble cast with a wondrous turn. He presents Turing as a complex, unique individual blessed with an exceptional mind and a puzzling personality. Is it a dead-on reflection of the actual Alan Turing? I doubt it, but it is a multi-dimensional performance that any “based on true events” film would be lucky to have driving it.

Keira Knightley shines as Turing’s teammate and eventual fianc√© Joan Clarke, subtlety creating a brilliant, outgoing personality where Turing finds comfort. Kudos, too, to Charles Dance and Mark Strong, both able to make lasting impressions with limited screen time as Turing’s superior officers.

As the human drama and the historical heroics both come to weighty conclusions, the film pulls back right when it might have cemented itself as truly unforgettable. Erring on the side of understatement is certainly the safe way home, but still disappointing. After Turing’s repeated pleas to pay attention, shying away from the tough questions raised leaves a film filled with logic feeling a touch too calculated.

 

Verdict-3-5-Stars

 

 

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S5CjKEFb-sM