Two current films deal with various aspects of politics American-style way back in the 1960‘s and ‘70s. Both center on the highest levels of the federal government. Both have their flaws, and some of them are quite deep, but they are well-worth mentioning, given their subject-matter.
MARK FELT: THE MAN WHO BROUGHT DOWN THE WHITE HOUSE stars Liam Neeson as the longtime FBI employee who became “Deep Throat” during the Watergate crisis, and who played a central role in bringing down the presidency of Richard Nixon. At its best, the film shines a focus on the time in which it is set. It offers a portrayal of Felt as a dedicated public servant who was surrounded by hostility and corruption, and who chose to combat the collusion by feeding information to Bob Woodward, Carl Bernstein, and the Washington Post. But cinematically-speaking, MARK FELT... is a real letdown. There is way-too-much talking and insufficient background information. Individuals appear onscreen who are barely-named. If you do not know the Watergate basics-- for example, why did the break-in occur and who are the principal characters beyond Richard Nixon, J. Edgar Hoover, and a few others-- the result is confusing.
However, while watching MARK FELT... and being reminded of President Nixon and all the FBI-versus-White-House shenanigans of the era, I only could ask myself: Who will be this generation’s Mark Felt? Who will be this era’s government insider who will fess up all that he or she knows, all in the name of love of country?
Despite its flaws, MARK FELT... is a work of genius when contrasted to the second “political” film. That would be LBJ-- and the title certainly tells all here. LBJ stars Woody Harrelson as Lyndon Baines Johnson, the vice president who took over the Oval Office upon the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. As a film, LBJ is nothing much. It is yet another one of those celluloid time-wasters. As I sit through them, I find myself glancing at my watch and counting the minutes until the final credit roll.
So I was not surprised by the film’s pre-release history. Since September of last year, LBJ has been making the rounds of the film festival circuit both domestically and internationally. My gut reaction is that it finally earned theatrical distribution right before Election Day. Plus, if you watch TV, you may have noticed a glut of advertising announcing the film’s release. This is nothing new. A film that surely will be savaged by audiences and critics will be rushed into theaters at an opportune moment. The hope is that it will draw audiences during its initial run, bring in as much at the box office as it can, and then make its way to DVD and Blu-ray oblivion.
There is, however, one aspect of LBJ that is worth citing, and that is the presence of Woody Harrelson and how it serves as a sobering reminder of the passage of time. It doesn’t seem that long ago that Harrelson was appearing as Woody Boyd, the young bartender, on CHEERS, the beloved sitcom. But now, he is old enough to be cast as Lyndon Johnson. And here is another example, which comes in the form of a trivia question. Name the actor who has played both Sid Vicious and Winston Churchill-- and I am not referring to a young Winston Churchill? The answer is Gary Oldman. Back in 1986, he starred in SID AND NANCY. This year, he plays Churchill in DARKEST HOUR.
Rob Edelman has authored or edited several dozen books on film, television, and baseball. He has taught film history courses at several universities and his writing has appeared in many newspapers, magazines, and journals. His frequent collaborator is his wife, fellow WAMC film commentator Audrey Kupferberg.
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