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Movie Review: 'Mank' Is A Love Letter To Classic Hollywood


When the film "Citizen Kane" was released in 1941, it was called one of the greatest motion pictures of all time. Orson Welles' masterpiece changed Hollywood forever. But behind the scenes, there was plenty of real-life drama. Well, now there is a movie about the movie through the eyes of the film's screenwriter, Herman Mankiewicz, played by Oscar-winning actor Gary Oldman.


TOM BURKE: (As Orson Welles) Mank, it's Orson Welles.

GARY OLDMAN: (As Herman Mankiewicz) Of course, it is.

BURKE: (As Orson Welles) I think it's time we talked.

OLDMAN: (As Herman Mankiewicz) I'm all ears.

BURKE: (As Orson Welles, laughter).

GREENE: The new film is called "Mank," and we have film critic Kenneth Turan with us here to talk about it. Kenny (ph), good to talk to you.

KENNETH TURAN: Good to talk to you, David.

GREENE: So set the scene for us, if you can, in this film. It takes place in the backlots of Hollywood in the 1930s, right?

TURAN: Yep. This is a film actually that has two - it goes back and forth over a kind of two time periods. The first one is 1940. Herman Mankiewicz is working on the screenplay for what will become "Citizen Kane." He's out in the desert outside LA because he's an alcoholic, and they want him to dry out while he's writing. But the film flashes back periodically to his earlier career in Hollywood in the golden age of the studio system in the 1930s. And we see the events that kind of made him who he is.

GREENE: I hear you say made him who he is. I want to know a little bit about who he is as we're talking here. I mean, who is Herman Mankiewicz and, you know, what is the drama around him?

TURAN: Well, Herman Mankiewicz - you know, again, we have to emphasize, these are real people. And a lot of the film is a very careful, loving recreation of Hollywood. In fact, this is really - as much as anything else, this film is a love letter to classic Hollywood. But Herman Mankiewicz was an extremely successful screenwriter, highly sought after. But, you know, he was a compulsive gambler. He was a falling down drunk. He was a major problem on a personal level. But he was so gifted that people kept hiring him and, you know, he was successful in Hollywood. So in some sense, this opportunity to work on "Citizen Kane," what became "Citizen Kane," is a chance for him to redeem himself, a chance for him to kind of do the kind of work that he has never kind of roused himself to do before.

GREENE: Well - and I understand the whole vibe of the film, I mean, it feels old. It's shot in black and white and has that whole old style to it.

TURAN: You know, the film that this reminded me most of is Quentin Tarantino's "Once Upon A Time In Hollywood" because it's a love letter to a certain period of Hollywood history. This portrays Herman Mankiewicz as kind of in some ways, even though, you know, he's very cynical, he's kind of a moralist in the guise of a cynic. He ends up wanting to tell truth to power. He's the conscience of Hollywood. It's fascinating to see this stuff brought to life and to see how meticulous this is and how much David Fincher, the director, really cared about making this film look right and be accurate.

GREENE: And you have kind of a personal connection to this film, right?

TURAN: Yes. I actually am working on a book about Louis B. Mayer and Irving Thalberg, who ran MGM. And the other aspect of "Mank" is about this campaign they ran, kind of the progenitor of fake news, where they created fake newsreels to help defeat a socialist candidate for governor of California. This is something that really happened. And, you know, that's one of the many things that makes this film, even though it's set 80, 90 years ago, it makes it very relevant to today.

GREENE: Talking about the new film "Mank" with MORNING EDITION film critic Kenneth Turan. Kenny, always great talking to you. Thanks so much.

TURAN: David, it's been great. Thank you.