MARK FELT: THE MAN WHO BROUGHT DOWN THE WHITE HOUSE: American history’s greatest mystery with the excitement sucked out


In the sagging docudrama Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House, Liam Neeson plays the title character – the man at the center of modern American history’s most compelling mystery. The Washington Post source known as Deep Throat was responsible for keeping the Watergate scandal alive until it dethroned Richard Nixon from the presidency. Deep Throat’s identity remained secret for thirty years. It turned out to be Mark Felt, the number two official at the FBI.

Think about it – this was one of the most compelling people in America for thirty years. Deep Throat was clearly one of a handful of men so well-positioned at the center of government power that we would know him, but no one could finger him. The intrigue was brilliantly captured in All the President’s Men, in which Hal Holbrook played Deep Throat.

In Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House, Neeson plays Felt as a stolid, principled and crafty bureaucratic survivor. Somehow the character just isn’t that personally interesting. The story attempts to flesh him out with a troubled wife (Diane Lane, always superb, even in this thankless role) and a runaway hippie daughter.

As we watch Mark Felt, it gradually becomes apparent that this is a one-note character in a one-note movie. The leaden, pseudo-dramatic soundtrack doesn’t help. Mark Felt also fumbles the chance to get some spark out of Watergate icons John Dean, John Erlichman and John Mitchell. The real-life mystery is so much more interesting than this movie. The movie may be irresistible to Watergate buffs like me, but probably should be resisted.

Mark Felt was directed by Peter Landesman, who recently made the near-masterpiece Parkland. Parkland explores the JFK assassination from the viewpoints of the secondary participants. Mark Felt, however, is not a work of directorial mastery.

Marton Csokas is excellent as weak-willed and overmatched FBI Director L. Patrick Gray.  Nixon handpicked Gray to be his stooge only to leave Gray, as henchman John Erlichman indelibly described, to “twist slowly, slowly in the wind”.

In Loving, Csokas, with pitiless, piercing eyes, was remarkably effective as the Virginia sheriff dead set on enforcing Virginia’s racist statute in the most personally intrusive way. Too often, actors seem to be impersonating Rod Steiger in In the Heat of the Night when they play racist Southern sheriffs, but Csokas brought originality to that performance.  Here Csokas is able to portray a man of ability and ambition, but not spine.

The great but personally turbulent actor Tom Sizemore showcases his talent once again in the film’s most showy role, a bitter and cynic relic of the FBI’s most sordid skullduggery.  Sizemore brings a magnetic cocktail of menace and humor to the role. Besides Diane Lane, the always welcome Bruce Greenwood and Eddie Marsan show up in minor roles.

Perhaps needless to say, Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House has made my list of Longest Movie Title.

The Dark Knight Rises: Unfortunately, over 2 hours when Catwoman is not on the screen

Well, there’s 2 hours and 44 minutes that I’ll never get back. First, the good news about The Dark Knight Rises.  Anne Hathaway excels as the best Catwoman ever, and the banter between her and Batman crackles.  There are some exceptional CGI effects of Manhattan’s partial destruction. There’s a cool personal hovercraft, the Bat, and an equally cool combo motorcycle/cannon, the Batpod.

Unfortunately, that’s all the good stuff in director Christopher Nolan’s newest chapter of the Batman saga.  The problem is the screenplay, dotted with the corniest of dialogue and laden with pretentious Batman mythology.  When Catwoman tells him “you don’t owe these people any more! You’ve given them everything!”, Batman solemnly replies, “Not everything. Not yet.”

The plot simply exists to transition from action set piece to action set piece.  There are too many times, when a good guy is in peril, that another good guy pops up utterly randomly and just in the nick of time – too many even for a comic book movie.

With her bright wit and lithe sexiness, Hathaway fares far better than her colleagues.   Christian Bale continues his odd husky growl as Batman.   As the villain, an uber buffed Tom Hardy glowers from behind a fearsome mask.  The hackneyed screenplay wastes the rest of the extremely talented cast:  Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman and Morgan Freeman.  We barely glimpse Liam Neeson.  The captivating Juno Temple is apparently dropped into the story just enough to set her up for the sequel with Gordon-Levitt.

I saw The Dark Knight Rises in IMAX, which worked well for the long shots of NYC and made the fight scenes more chaotic.