Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House review

Sometimes a film will premiere before a real life event which echoes the subject matter in the movie. That happened with The China Syndrome (1979) a movie about a nuclear plant meltdown. Its debut occurred twelve days days before a nuclear power plant accident happened at Three Mile Island, Pennsylvania. Now comes Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House, a film about the Watergate scandal. Just in time for the Trump-Russia scandal.

It's May, 1972. The film opens up with FBI deputy associate director, Mark Felt (Liam Neeson) telling President Nixon's White House counsel John Dean (Micheal C. Hall) and his other men that the FBI has kept secrets and that they are safe with the FBI. Then legendary and controversial Director, J. Edgar Hoover dies. This leads Felt to order the destruction of Hoover's personal files which contain a bunch of dirt. What dirt? The movie doensn't tell you but it's done before President Nixon's people can get it.

In June 1972, burglars break into the Democratic National Committee's headquarters at the Watergate hotel. Some of the perpetrators have FBI and CIA employment histories and are connected to President Nixon's  campaign.  Acting FBI director. Patrick Gray (Marton Csokas) seems to be under pressure from the White House and Justice Department to clear Nixon and wrap up the investigation before the FBI can get  the truth out.   Felt decides to leak to the press, specifically reporter Bob Woodward  (Julian Morris) of the Washington Post.  He becomes a secret source called "Deep Throat."  Meanwhile Felt must deal with the disappearance of his daughter and his wife Audrey's (Diane Lane)  depression.

Movies based on real life people and events often take dramatic license to tell the story.  There are reasons.  Time issues.  But more importantly, dramatic license allows filmmakers to make a movie that is more cinematic giving it more drive and tension.    As long as the the film is substantially correct, I don't see a problem.

Mark Felt:  The Man Who Brought Down the White House  really needed more dramatic license.  Peter Landesman's script and direction are stodgy and pedestrian.    The film does not show the audience the stakes or the danger of what Nixon was trying to get away with.  As a result, the performances  of the cast were pretty  much dry with the exception of Diane Lane's Audrey.

I never got the impression of the risk and need for Felt to leak information to the Washington Post.  Yeah, Felt talks about that no one stops an FBI investigation and a metaphor on how corruption can bring down a government.  But what is required here, is the importance of a free press and the leaker who believes she or he is doing something right.  It's all done to get the truth out.  Thank God for the First Amendment's protections of a free press.  And it's even more relevant now with the specter of President Trump looking to either fire Special Counsel Bob Mueller or pardon himself out of the Russian scandal.  If those things happen then the only way the truth gets out is through the press.

This film could have used a little "corn."  There should have been a discussion about the free press and the need to expose Nixon..  A "no man is above the law" speech would have been helpful for dramatic purposes.  Daniel Pemberton's score was too much musical wallpaper.  Themes would have  given the film more emotional weight.

Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House is earnest, relevant and important but it's also arid.  One can hope there will be a better movie about Felt made in the future.  The  film to see about Watergate is All the President's Men.  (1976)  The grade is B Minus..   

No comments: