In a huge departure from the prosthetics required for his Oscar-winning turn as Winston Churchill, in “Mank,” director David Fincher told Gary Oldman he wanted “no veil between [Oldman] and the audience,” the actor shared with IndieWire. There is little attempt to make Oldman look like the real Herman Mankiewicz, and the result is one of his most natural, authentic, playful performances, and one that would result in his third Oscar nomination.
Playing one of Hollywood’s most acerbic writing talents, Oldman has a whale of a time dishing out barbed insults to those in positions of authority, including William Randolph Hearst (Charles Dance). While others bristle at Mank’s impertinence, Hearst praises Mank as “wonderfully contrary,” and a curative to the crowd of toadies he surrounds himself with. Essentially serving as a court jester to the tycoon, the position rankles Mank pretty soon, and his increasingly belligerent comments set him against Hearst. This is all told in flashbacks as Mank works on a new screenplay, a thinly veiled assault on Hearst, named “Citizen Kane.”
In an interview, Oldman described Mank as “an egomaniac with low self-esteem” while Orson Welles is said to have called him “the perfect monument to self-destruction,” both of which are evident in his frankly incredible performance. Mank is a performer, clearly relishing being the single dissenting voice in a choir of yes-men, and speaking with no fear of recriminations. Still, there is a vulnerability to his character, too, and a clear warmth in the interactions with his long-suffering wife, cruelly nicknamed “poor Sara” (Tuppence Middleton).