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A brief clip of Walter Cronkite on TV in "Mark Felt..." reminded me of the authority the legendary newscaster generated back in the day, and star Liam Neeson likewise lends immeasurable gravitas to this film of ideas, a tangential look at the Watergate case.
Just as Mark Felt, self-identified decades later to be the mysterious Deep Throat who aided Woodward & Bernstein in revealing to the public the White House wrongdoings, is a footnote in American history, so too this well-made movie is destined to be a mere footnote in film history. That's because it does not fit into popular genres, specifically the thriller, but is more the province of television drama in the 21st Century.
Back in the day, this would have been an A-production release from United Artists or later Columbia Pictures in the Stanley Kramer vein, his films about ideas and problem subjects like "The Men" with Brando or "Home of the Brave", but nowadays it is up to successor company to Columbia, specialty division, namely Sony Pictures Classics, to bring this worthy effort to a blasé public.
I happen to love movies of this type, far more than the Action Man pictures like "Taken" that have made of middle-aged actor Neeson an iconic action figure. The best movie I recall is "Command Decision", a war movie, but minus the action, and more recently (though 2 decades back) the excellent "Executive Decision" starring Kurt Russell.
Felt's importance at the FBI, notably in the wake of J. Edgar's death, is the principal thrust of Peter Landesman's film. It moves along on a low flame, tension mounting imperceptibly under the handicap of the viewer being already aware, certainly in broad strokes, of the incidents being covered in the wake of the burglary of Dem offices at D.C.'s Watergate Hotel, as well as the ultimate outcome. But using insider Felt's point- of-view gives us an interesting vantage point.
Neeson as Felt is a noir hero, self-divided and trying to do the right thing but caught in a malevolent universe where, to paraphrase TV's "The Fugitive", fate is moving a huge hand. His conflict with new acting FBI head Gray, well-played subtly by Marton Csokas, is quite believable, and helps to add depth to the otherwise black & white "whose side are you on" in the story's depiction of a war between the evil White House and the "standing up for our country" FBI.
It is Felt's personal life that creates the movie's emotional core, at first seeming irrelevant but actually paying off by movie's end more forcefully than the character's heroics. He's carrying a torch for his missing daughter Joan (Maika Monroe, in an understated turn), who brings in a serious subplot of the society's counterculture from the '60s and a different kind of terrorism than that confronting the nation and the FBI today. Felt's belated war against the Weather Underground and other leftist domestic groups is what proves to be his personal downfall, as he ends up resorting to horrible, illegal tactics just as his dreaded villain of a former co-worker Sullivan (smoothly played by instant bad guy Tom Sizemore) and innumerable Nixon cronies did. I found Felt's Jekyll & Hyde split personality traits of honor vs. expediency to be the core of the movie's subdued power.
Casting of Monroe was a big help, as she closely resembles mom Diane Lane, the latter actress doing well in a very difficult role that suffers in Landesman's writing from a bit too many '50s/'60s clichés of the unfulfilled woman trapped in a marriage that rendered her totally subservient/dependent on her husband.
NOTE: Previous review posted on IMDb is a trashing of the movie by someone who hadn't seen it -just assuming how bad and slanted it would be. I've wished this website would control such poor and distracting behavior by users -antithetical to the whole purpose of submitting reviews.
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