Tonight, I returned back to preparing for my annual attempt to watch all Oscar nominations. And while I’ve mostly focused on the short lists with the official nominations still a week away, today I went with something a little different. I went with two films that I passed on in January in preparation of my year end list but am confidant will be named multiple times on the 15th.
Mank (2020, Dir. David Fincher)
I didn’t pass on Mank back in January because I didn’t think I’d like it. I think everything David Fincher’s done in at least the last 15 years have been good to great, and yet except for The Social Network (2010) his films are routinely a little too cold for me to love. Mank fits perfectly with Fincher’s other films in that way. Technically he is one of the strongest directors working today. His scenes are all well calculated and precise. Where he doesn’t work for me as well is in his characters. There’s always a distance with his characters. It feels like their story is being told rather than them telling their story.
While the film once again fails to convince me to love it mostly due to the characters, Mank again proves that Fincher deserves the reputation he’s garnered. The film is meticulously pieced together interconnecting scenes from different times to tell an engrossing story of old Hollywood. Every moment fits the films need wonderfully; the two-hour plus film has no fat to trim. Gorgeous black and white photography from Erik Messershmidt combine with another memorable Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross score to add the visual and audial flare to Fincher’s vision.
The Trial of the Chicago 7 (2020, Dir. Aaron Sorkin)
While most of Mank worked for me, very little of The Trial of the Chicago 7 did. Sorkin’s schmaltz has soured over the years, and by touching on a raw subject in police brutality, the film left me worked up rather than satisfied. 2020 was not the year to go halfhearted on complaints against the police. The film is too content to let the eventual acquittal of the Chicago 7 be an appropriate level of justice. Sorkin’s tying everything in a bow was not the treatment this subject required.
This frustration with the film was compounded with the acting. I’ve reached the point where Eddie Redmayne does not work for me. His over-the-top caricature appears a complete farse anymore, and his Tom Hayden came across smarmy. Equally absurd was Jeremy Strong’s portrayal of Jerry Rubin. The stoner comedy bit was too extreme and did not work with the tone of the film. Weirdly the only performance in the film I genuinely appreciated was Sacha Baron Cohen’s Abbie Hoffman. In a film of over the top and out of place comedic characters, the actor known for playing over the top comedic characters was the only one who could find the appropriate tone for the film.