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Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House

Mark Felt is a beautifully crafted movie about the role of secret agent Deep Throat in the 1974 resignation of President Richard Nixon. It can be hard to follow for people who were very young at the time. If you were uninterested back then, you may be bored. If you were, as I was, riveted by the unfolding story, you may be fascinated by a superbly controlled performance by Liam Neeson. This is an absorbing piece of American history.

For nearly fifty years as head of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover kept deeply personal files on public figures to the point where presidents, movie stars, and businessmen dared not cross him for fear of exposure. When Hoover died in 1972, Deputy Mark Felt (Liam Neeson) expected to be promoted to the job after his own thirty years in the bureau.

His hopes were crushed when Richard Nixon became president and appointed his own loyalist, L. Patrick Gray as chief of the FBI. When the multiple crimes of the Nixon administration began to leak out, Gray did all he could to discover who in the bureau was passing the facts to the Washington Post. It was, of course, Mark Felt, labelled Deep Throat by Bob Woodward of the Post. Felt passed information to Woodward in absolute secrecy that was maintained until he revealed his identity in 2005.

Nixon and his White House staff were running burglaries, illegal wiretaps, and money laundering. Mark Felt passed the proof to the Washington Post’s Bob Woodward who published it as he assembled evidence. Few will forget the day Richard Nixon resigned and boarded a plane in shame with the same wave of his arm he had always used in victory.

The strength of this movie is the genuinely interesting picture of Felt’s values and character as he brought down a presidential administration that was awash in multiple crimes. Liam Neeson captures the sadness of a loyal, smart man denied his promotion by the very people he was investigating. The actor has a compelling grasp of Mark Felt, the loyal FBI man who was watching the White House puncture the system.

Neeson shows Felt’s anger through a determination to discover and to end White House corruption. Honest to the core, he suffers not just from losing the head job at the FBI but from having his new boss be a Nixon loyalist. Neeson paints a portrait of a man loyal to country and to his organization, a husband and father capable of tenderness but locked in the fight to expose Richard Nixon’s crimes. As Felt’s wife Audrey, Diane Lane paints a woman who lives in isolation in the same house as her preoccupied husband.

This is an intricate story – often hard to follow – of complex personalities and rivalries with an honorable man at its center. If you were alive and interested in its unfolding in the ‘70s, you’ll be fascinated; if not it’s one valuable history lesson.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : Mark Felt
Word Count : 497
Running Time: 1:43
Rating : PG-13
Date : October 15, 2017

 

Victoria and Abdul

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

Victoria and Abdul

It’s a safe bet that audiences who gather for Victoria and Abdul will arrive with differing expectations. Yes, it’s about Queen Victoria, but is it history or a fictional anecdote? Neither. It begins as a tender comedy wrapped in the rules and customs of 19th century Britain and based somewhat loosely on the facts of Victoria’s life.

Watching the story unfold after stepping into a theater from the reality of 21st century America adds to the humor of this particular tale. Can this ever have happened? You bet, though remember the wonderful introductory hint offered us as the lights go down: “This movie is based on historical facts, mostly.” The extraordinary Judi Dench delivers the stratified society to us with perfect timing as she recreates the lonely queen. The result? A history lesson with a conspiratorial wink.

The early scenes introduce us to the dour queen and her love of eating meals at the head of the table while she is miserable with the crowd of fellow diners who bore her thoroughly. She eats and sleeps her way through dull days and is attended by dozens of servants who dress her, do her hair, and prepare her to step out in public. In short alternating scenes we meet Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal) a clerk from India who has been chosen for his looks and height as the right person to present a beautiful jeweled locket to the queen. It is a gift to be proudly given from this country in her Empire.

Abdul, who has been warned that he must never make eye contact with the queen, does so immediately as he presents the gift to her. Because each has been drawn in such grand detail in the early scenes, we know instantly that Victoria has met the one human being she can relate to with quiet pleasure. She asks him to teach her the language and to explain the culture since she can’t go there for fear of assassination. Their quiet, respectful interaction makes a mockery of the formality that has been her world for 62 years. He teaches and she learns in a lovely quiet friendship of the kind she hasn’t known before. Abdul stays there for years until the time comes to comfort Victoria as she lies dying. In 2010 his journals were discovered and became part of history.

Each cast member contributes appropriately but all of them are cardboard figures as they show us the narrow, formal world that surrounds the queen. The movie belongs to just two. Ali Fazal has the tough assignment of creating an Indian clerk whose deep sincerity touches Victoria so deeply that it changes her life. His performance is gentle and entirely credible. Judi Dench’s Victoria comes alive with this gift of genuine kindness from Abdul. Knowing the Dench talent as we all do, the portrait she paints of Victoria is no surprise, but the lovely quiet friendship between the two of them is a rare cinematic treat.

Film Critic: JOAN ELLIS
Film Title: Victoria and Abdul
Word Count: 497
Running Time: 1:52
Rating: PG-13
Date: 8 October 2017