What is the Movie ‘Mank’ About? Plot Explained

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The big winner of the 2021 Oscar nominations was Netflix’s Mank, which took home a total of 10 nominations including Best Picture, Best Director for David Fincher, Best Actor for Gary Oldman, and Best Supporting Actress for Amanda Seyfried. (However, the film did not a nod for its screenplay, which is ironic given the film’s subject matter.)

And yet, despite the Academy’s love for Mankand despite the accessibility of the film, which is streaming on the most popular streaming service—the movie isn’t exactly a crowd-pleaser among the general public. In fact, a good deal of people don’t even seem to know what Mank is about. No worries, Decider is here to help. Here’s a run-down on the Mank plot, and whether Mank is worth watching this awards season.

What is Mank about?

The main story—written by Fincher’s late father Jack Fincher, before his death in 2003—is based on the true story of screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz, or Mank (played by Gary Oldman), who is working on his masterpiece for Orson Welles (Tom Burke), Citizen Kane in the year 1940. Welles, a hot-shot director, has arranged for Mankiewicz to stay in a house on the edge of the Californian desert, provided him with cigarettes, alcohol, and a British typist named Rita (Lily Collins). He expects a script in 60 days.

The film cuts back and forth between Mank writing Citizen Kane in 1940, and flashbacks to Mank’s career in Hollywood in the 1930s. You get some fun scenes of Mank and his screenwriter buddies pitching absurd stories on the Paramount lot. Then Mank drunkenly wanders onto the set of a film starring Marion Davies (Amanda Seyfried) and scores a dinner with her lover, the powerful newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst (Charles Dance), who would later become the inspiration for Citizen Kane. Only in Hollywood, baby!

But there is a third, more perplexing storyline in Mank: the 1934 California gubernatorial election. MGM studio execs L.B. Mayer (Arliss Howard) and Irving Thalberg (Ferdinand Kingsley) are concerned about a progressive Democrat named Upton Sinclair (Bill Nye), and so create a series of propaganda films for the Republican candidate. Mank disapproves of their methods, and—the movie suggests—used that experience as further inspiration for the character of Charles Foster Kane.

Is Mank worth watching?

It depends. Are you obsessed with Hollywood’s Golden Age? Did you fall in love with Citizen Kane the first time you watched it in Cinema Studies 101? Are you an Amanda Seyfried stan? If you answered “Yes” to all of those questions, then Mank is worth watching.

But if you answered “No” to one or more questions, then you might find that Mank is boring. The script is a bit of a mess, and though the film is only just over two hours, you start to feel the drag around Act 2. If you’re not up on your 1930s and ’40s Hollywood trivia, you may find that the names and references fly over your head.

The good parts of Mank—Seyfried’s performance, the homages to the era, and the cinematography—may outweigh the bad for some. It certainly seems to have outweighed the bad for the Academy, and that’s not surprising, given that the Academy is made up of folks in the movie industry. But if you’re not a hardcore cinephile, you may want to skip this one.

Watch Mank on Netflix