Richard Brody in The New Yorker:
The best thing about David Fincher’s new film, “Mank,” is that it isn’t about what one expects it to be about. More specifically, the movie (which is streaming on Netflix) is not about the assertion, made most strenuously by Pauline Kael in her controversial New Yorker piece “Raising Kane,” that Herman J. Mankiewicz, the veteran screenwriter, wrote the screenplay for “Citizen Kane” by himself and nearly had credit stolen from him by Orson Welles, the movie’s director, producer, star, and credited co-writer. Yes, that saga (which I revisited recently) is included in the film, but it is downplayed to the point of insignificance and near incomprehensibility. Rather, “Mank” is about why Mankiewicz wrote “Citizen Kane”—what experiences inspired him to write it and were essential to it, and why he was the only person who could have done so.
The movie is not a “gotcha” movie, not a parroting of Kael’s argument, but, rather, an astutely probing and pain-filled work of speculative historical psychology—and a vision of Hollywood politics that shines a fervent plus ça change spotlight on current events. It is a film that left me with a peculiar impression—especially when I viewed it a second time, after brushing up on Mankiewicz’s story—that it is, in some ways, an inert cinematic object, lacking a dramatic spark. But its subject is fascinating, and its view of classic Hollywood is so personal, and passionately conflicted, that what takes place onscreen feels secondary to what it reveals of Fincher’s own directorial psychology—of his view of the business and the art of movies, and of his place in both.
Like “Citizen Kane,” “Mank” is a movie built with flashbacks.