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Monday, April 23, 2018

Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House

How the hell did they get this one so wrong?!

This review is also up on Channel 24

What it's about

The true story of Mark Felt, the FBI assistant director who acted as the informant for Woodward and Bernstein, the journalists who broke the Nixon Administration's infamous Watergate scandal. Then known only as Deep Throat – his true identity was only revealed in 2005 – Felt saw the corruption in the White House but because of an increasingly bureaucratic presence in the FBI in the form of its new director, he was powerless to do anything through normal channels. For the good of the country, then, he betrayed the bureau he had been a part of for decades and ensured that nothing, not even the FBI, would stand between America and its free press.

What we thought

By all rights, it should be absolutely impossible to turn a story this gripping into a dud of a film, but writer/ director Peter Landesman somehow managed to do exactly that. Dreary, humourless and dull, Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House should be a fantastically engaging, thrilling and sadly all too relevant political thriller but instead is every bit as clumsy and uninspired as its awful, awful title.

In a political landscape when the American president is doing everything in his power to undermine the country's free press – sorry, the “mainstream media” - while at the same time being constantly embattled with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, there is no better time for a film that deals squarely with Watergate, Woodward and Bernstein, and the man (rather than the film) known as Deep Throat. Sadly, despite Spielberg providing a perfect introduction to the period with his slightly dry but otherwise very impressive Streep/ Hanks tour de force, the Post, Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House doesn't come within a hundred miles of doing such important and relevant events justice.

Ironically, it's perhaps the film's sense of its own importance that is most responsible for turning it into the turgid, dramatically inert dirge that it is. This is the sort of story that is too incredible to make up and with its mix of political intrigue, espionage and the positively fascinating dichotomy of heroism verging on treason against villainy verging on patriotism, it should be as powerful and as engaging as the best films of its kind. Instead, Landesman has offered up a film that consists mostly of boring men, in boring suits, walking into boring rooms, talking boringly at one another for what feels like (boring) years.

Where's the passion; where's the I-can't-believe-this-happened-and-may-just-be-happening-again outrage, and just where the hell is the sense of verve and humanity that this astonishing story deserves? Landesman's direction is competent but nowhere near inspired enough to bring some life to his understandably talky but unforgivably clunky script. Along with stiff dialogue, there's a sense of disengagement to the way this story is told, which is unforgivable for a story this important and frankly befuddling for a film that is this aware of its own importance. And, while the film deals with serious matters, it's total and utter lack of a sense of humour of any sort, reveals a filmmaker who can't tell the difference between seriousness with sombreness – which, for a story this vital, is an entirely fatal mistake.

As for the man himself, both Landesman and Liam Neeson fail spectacularly to bring life to this true life American hero; to offer revelations about a man who was steeped in secrecy for decades. Neeson certainly has the gravitas for the role and his stirring speech of needing to stand up against the FBI for the cause of truth may be grandstanding but it's also one of the few times that the film comes close to waking up, but the once highly respected (and deservedly so) actor has clearly been in far too many crappy action movies to find the right pitch for the role. He's certainly not helped along by a supporting cast that is either horribly underused (Diane Lane) or was seemingly cast because Kevin Spacey turned out be an alleged sexual predator (Marti Csokas is clearly doing a Spacey impression here, and not a very good one at that) but, to add to the many weird decisions taken by the film, perhaps one of the weirdest is the almost total lack of Woodward and/ or Bernstein as supporting players.

But, then, what else do you expect of a film that has written into its very DNA the promise of true brilliance but that doesn't even have the decency to be interesting enough to be genuinely bad. “Meh” is the last thing this film should be but “meh” is all it ever really is. It may be too soon to call but it's already in the running for the most disappointing film of the year. That, I suppose, is an achievement at least...



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