Film reviews: Mank | Collective | Patrick | Asia
With an all-star cast that includes Gary Oldman, Amanda Seyfried and Charles Dance, David Fincher’s exploration of the making of Citizen Kane paints a ravishing yet despairing portrait of screenwriter Herman J Mankiewicz, writes Alistair Harkness
Mank (12A) *****
Collective (15) *****
Patrick (15) ****
Asia (15) ***
The personal, political and creative friction that birthed Citizen Kane is the subject of Mank, David Fincher’s ravishing yet despairing portrait of its veteran screenwriter Herman J Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman) whose contribution to Orson Welles’s debut film was quickly overshadowed by the 24-year-old wunderkind’s own ascent and has, as a result, been much disputed in the decades since. Fincher – working from a script by his own father, the late journalist Jack Fincher – comes down firmly on the side of Pauline Kael’s New Yorker essay “Raising Kane” by locating the origins of Citizen Kane’s satirical exploration of power and megalomania in Mank’s own friendships with the newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst (Charles Dance) and Hearst’s mistress, the Hollywood starlet Marion Davies (intelligently played by Amanda Seyfried).
Anyone who knows anything about Citizen Kane will of course know that Hearst tried to block the film’s release, but Fincher presents his movie as a labyrinthine noir – at times even mimicking Citizen Kane’s own radical structure – to dig a little deeper into the reasons why Mank’s apparent betrayal of Hearst cut so deep. Shooting in shimmering black-and-white to both evoke the romance of 1930s Hollywood and heighten the looming darkness of fascism’s global rise (and America’s own insidious lurch to the right), Fincher cuts between Mank’s furious efforts to finish the screenplay for Orson while bed-bound following a car accident (Welles is played by Tom Burke) and his position years earlier as a hard-drinking, hard-gambling, high-society court jester who managed to exploit his journalistic talent as a wordsmith to get a seat at the Hollywood table just as the talkies were coming in.
It’s these flashbacks that really bring the story to life as we see Oldman gradually reveal Mank’s dawning realisation that this nascent industry is as cutthroat as it’s possible to get. Indeed, the film’s dyspeptic view of the potentially damaging ways emerging media can be exploited by the callous and the power-mad can’t help but echo Fincher’s own Facebook movie The Social Network. But Mank also functions as a sardonic autopsy of Hollywood’s Golden Age by a filmmaker known for reinventing the serial killer thriller with Seven, with Zodiac and then again with Mindhunter. He knows where the decaying bodies are buried in other words, but more importantly, he knows how to transform the tarnished glamour of Hollywood into great cinema.
A horrifying tale of corruption and bureaucratic malfeasance, the new documentary Collective serves up an explosive look at the power of journalism to hold a government to account and the shameless venality of those in and seeking power to do what ever they want. Examining the dreadful aftermath of a Bucharest nightclub fire in which 27 people perished and a further 37 died due to the inadequacies of the Romanian healthcare system, Alexander Nanau’s film zeroes in initially on Cătălin Tolontan, a journalist for a sports newspaper whose investigation into the lies being spun by the sitting government leads to their temporary removal from office. In the second part of the film, though, Nanau also gets unprecedented access to the interim government’s newly appointed minister for health, Vlad Voiculescu, a patients’ rights activist and a seemingly decent man whose desire for transparency and reform reveals not only sickening levels corruption but an unwillingness on a societal level to do the tough job of administering a cure. It’s a bleak but important film – a timely warning to everyone about the need to keep those in power in check.
An existential detective movie set in a Belgian nudist camp, Patrick marks the feature debut of Flemish director Tim Mielants, a graduate of high-end TV shows such as Peaky Blinders whose cinematic sensibilities here veer more towards the stylistic weirdness of fellow Euro-auteurs Yorgos Lanthimos and Ruben Östlund. A surfeit of style certainly helps draw us into the mystery of its title character – an introverted 38-year-old amateur carpenter who helps his elderly parents run their woodland naturist colony. Played with unabashed normalcy by Kevin Janssens, Patrick is well-liked among the camp's eccentric regulars, but his life starts falling apart upon noticing a hammer missing from the matching set of tools he keeps in meticulous order in his workshop. That the theft also coincides with his father's sudden death doesn't stop Mielants from needlessly spelling out the metaphorical significance of Patrick's subsequent quest to locate the missing tool. But even if the bluntness of this theme comes off like a knowing, Coen brothers-style gag too far, it doesn’t dim the many wonderfully oddball ways Mielants brings the world of the film vividly to life, including casting Jemaine Clement as a zen rockstar called Dustin Apollo.
In Israeli drama Asia, a 30-something mother's strained relationship with her terminally ill teenage daughter helps subvert the clichés of what could otherwise have been another melodramatic weepie. Demonstrating an unwillingness to go down the path of either The Fault in Our Stars or the recent Babyteeth, debut writer/director Ruthy Pribar's no frills drama presents its title character (played by Alena Yiv) as a woman filled with regret at the burden of parenthood. Initially viewing Asia as more of a contemporary of her 17-year-old daughter than her primary caregiver (the daughter is played by Shira Hass), the film isn’t afraid to explore the complex psychological impact of parenthood, nor the hard work it takes to repair any resulting damage before it's too late.
Mank is available on limited release in cinemas from 20 November and is streaming on Netflix from 4 December; Patrick is available on demand and in virtual cinemas from 20 November via anti-worldsreleasing.co.uk; Collective is streaming on demand on digital platforms and via dogwoof.co.uk; Asia is available on demand from Curzon Home Cinema.
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