David Fincher and Gary Oldman finally working together feels like it’s destined to be movie history, but the fact that it’s occurring for a Herman Mankiewicz biopic is doubly on-the-nose. The film, which will reveal how a newspaper man became the screenwriter of what many consider to be the finest film ever produced, 1941’s Citizen Kane, is set-up for Fincher at Netflix, indicative of an ever growing relationship between the streaming service and Oscar nominated auteur. It also promises to be a personal film for the director as his own father, Jack Fincher, wrote the screenplay.
The film, which is currently titled Mank, is one Fincher has wanted to make since 1997—so after Se7en and The Game but before Fight Club—and is a project that is intended to be shot in black and white. It is unclear at the moment, but I’d personally be interested to know that since it’s going for a vintage Hollywood aesthetic, will it likewise be shot on celluloid? (Fincher is a vocal supporter of the transition to digital photography.)
Mank will follow the larger-than-life career of Herman J. Mankiewicz, who began as a reporter in 1920s New York where he was a member of the fabled Algonquin Round Table, alongside other luminaries such as Dorothy Parker, Harpo Marx, and George S. Kaufman. A company of New York’s literary elite, Mankiewicz didn’t let that stop him from accepting a job offer from Paramount Pictures and moving to Los Angeles where he became one of Tinstletown’s most storied screenwriters in its golden age, working on the scripts for Orson Welles’ paradigm-changing Citizen Kane, as well as The Wizard of Oz (1939), San Francisco (1936), The Pride of the Yankees (1942), and many, many more. He also was the paterfamilias of a legendary Hollywood family that would go on to include Herman’s younger brother Joseph L. Mankiewicz—screenwriter of All About Eve (1950), Dragonwyck (1946), and Cleopatra (1963)—and Tom Mankiewicz, Joseph’s son and writer of Live and Let Die (1973) and Superman: The Movie (1978).
Of course Herman Mankiewicz’s battle with Orson Welles should prove a strong context for the meat of the film, as each’s greatest work, Citizen Kane, resulted in bruised egos and tension with Mankiewicz accusing Welles of trying to bribe him to take his name off the script so Welles could receive full writing credit. They wound up having to share a Best Original Screenplay Oscar between them.
Mank looks to be Oldman’s first major role after his Oscar winning turn as Winston Churchill in The Darkest Hour. It also will be Fincher’s first film since Gone Girl in 2014. Since then he has tried unsuccessfully to develop a World War Z 2 with his frequent collaborator Brad Pitt at Paramount but has also worked extensively more with Netflix. After executive producing House of Cards at Netflix, which he also directed several of the first episodes for, he has moved on to executive producing and directing much of Mindhunter. The fact his next original film is also at the streaming service is perhaps telling about the future of the industry.