Going back to my teen years, I was introduced to a little show, which was part science fiction, but mostly comedic. It was called “Mystery Science Theater 3000,” MST3K for short. This also began my introduction to specific reactions to awful films. Over time, I learned to detect patterns within these types of movies. One of those patterns would be in the title. It seemed that the longer the film title was, the more likely it was that it would also be a bad movie. You can probably imagine where my thinking went when I discovered I was about to see a film, entitled “Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House.” Even as I recalled my prior notions about lengthy movie titles, I was ready to give it a chance. After all, it IS a biopic, and biopics generally have a pretty high standard of quality, at least nowadays.
“Mark Felt,” for short, was directed AND written by Peter Landesman. If you are not too familiar with he or his work, he is also the same guy who wrote and directed 2015’s “Concussion,” which was met with overwhelmingly positive fanfare. The minor difference is THAT film was inspired by an article from GQ magazine and THIS, current, movie was based on an autobiography. As I was researching “Mark Felt,” one thing I considered was if maybe this film should have been released next year, out of commemoration for the 10-year anniversary of the REAL Mark Felt’s passing, but I digress.
Liam Neeson (“Silence”) is Mark Felt. If you are unaware of who this man is and what he is known for, do not feel bad. The only clue I had to uncovering his place in modern American history is the fact that the only time a President was ever forced to resign during his active duties as out leader was amidst the Richard Nixon administration. Since I am already on the subject of Nixon, I would like to praise this film for choosing NOT to portray the President in a visible role. You will see real footage of the man, but you will never actually see him OR hear his voice during the movie. It proves to be effective, in a sort of unseen, big brother kind of way. Plus, the focus is meant to be on Felt, is it not?
It has come to my knowledge that the role of Audrey Felt, played by Diane Lane (“Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice”), was cut rather significantly from the final version of the movie. It IS, indeed, a shame. She is a strong, emotional presence during the scenes in which she is dominant, but because of her limitations throughout the film, her performance comes across as too one-sided to be taken as seriously as it should have been. Surely, she and Mark had their share of intense, emotional scenarios, but there had to have been some good times, as well, and we do not really see any evidence of that in “Mark Felt.”
While the rest of the cast looks pretty impressive on paper, the sum total leaves something to be desired. The execution of the acting feels too forced. In other words, it seems to obvious that they are all just trying to imitate the people that they are portraying. The only standout performance, for ME, was that of Marton Csokas (“True Crimes”) as L Patrick Gray. Even after saying that, without knowing who the real Gray is, I am fairly certain that he was not so dramatic or theatrical as the temporary, incumbent head man within the FBI agency, but who knows?
I also enjoyed the onscreen performance of Bruce Greenwood (“Gold”) as Sandy Smith, a Time magazine reporter. The way he bounced off of Liam Neeson was reminiscent of the chemistry between Mark Ruffalo and Stanley Tucci in 2015’s “Spotlight,” only it was more subtle, but that has more to do with the direction of the film than anything else.
Speaking of THAT, “Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House,” showed promise, but ultimately fell a little bit flat. There was nothing bad or overly frustrating about the movie, but the persistently dark tone of the film, through the music and more one-dimensional characters in the story, made it hard for me to break through that wall and accept the primaries for the depth they were attempting to showcase. The plot did not feel choppy, per se, but it struck me as uneven. If the filmmakers had been prepared to release a much longer presentation to the general audiences, maybe THEN they cold have delivered something more meaningful, overall. However, the secondary people would have become even more obsolete to the movie and that might have hurt the film in a different way. Was “Mark Felt” over-crowded? I am leaning towards a “yes.” I am NOT a movie-maker, though, so this is really all just food for thought.
I also know that I am not the only one who would have liked to see this film released under a different, less complicated title. It is not as bad as the movies you would see on “MST3K,” but why tempt that mode of thinking, in the first place? Well, maybe there a lot less people who would think that way, anyhow.
Director: Peter Landesman
Screenwriter: Peter Landesman
Starring: Liam Neeson, Diane Lane, Marton Csokas, Ike Barinholtz, Tony Goldwyn, Bruce Greenwood, Michael C Hall, Brian d’Arcy James, Josh Lucas, Eddie Marsan, Wendi McLendon-Covey and Maika Monroe
Music: Daniel Pemberton
Distributor: Sony Picture Classics
Release: October 13th, 2017