Reviews

Mark Felt too self-serious, You Are My Sunday finds cute-couple movie formula

Once in a rare while, there are films that are important and good. These are films that tell a story that needs to be told and tell it in a gripping way.

Too often, though, important films are not good enough because the size of the story creates problems.

There is no better example of this than Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down The White House (PG13, 103 minutes, opens tomorrow, 2.5/5 stars), a biopic of the highly placed Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agent who, 30 years after the Watergate scandal, was revealed to be Deep Throat, the source used by the journalists who broke the story in The Washington Post.

It's said that the best autobiographies are written by middle managers and vice-presidents. They have no legacy to burnish, so they can afford to be honest and their books have to sell on scandal, not celebrity.

Such was the case with Felt, who told all in the 2006 book on which this film is based. Writer-director Peter Landesman, a former writer for The New Yorker and helmer of other fact-based dramas Parkland (2013) and Concussion (2015), treats this as part-political procedural, part-character study.

That might have been a mistake. The procedural is all tight-jawed guys yammering and the character study is more of Felt (Liam Neeson) looking and feeling tense in the company of wife Audrey (Diane Lane).

 The Man Who Brought Down The White House; and Barun Sobti and Shahana Goswami in You Are My Sunday.
Liam Neeson (above) in Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down The White House; and Barun Sobti and Shahana Goswami in You Are My Sunday. PHOTO: BOB MAHONEY

Landesman has a laudable commitment to veracity, so scenes are thickly populated with actors playing real people, such as White House attorney John Dean (Michael C. Hall) and FBI men such as Bill Sullivan (Tom Sizemore).

There is a game afoot; certainly there are enough men muttering about the hand of the White House breaching the sacred wall separating them and the FBI.

Landesman's mode of presentation is self-serious and didactic. He either does not believe in or does not know how to tell a dense, legalistic story with conciseness, or does not know how to break up the monotony with irony or humour.

 The Man Who Brought Down The White House; and Barun Sobti and Shahana Goswami (both above) in You Are My Sunday.
Liam Neeson in Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down The White House; and Barun Sobti and Shahana Goswami (both above) in You Are My Sunday. PHOTO: GOLDEN VILLAGE

The Hindi-language romantic comedy You Are My Sunday (PG13, 124 minutes, opens on Friday, 3/5 stars) is an important story because, as writer-director Milind Dhaimade says, in India, the world's most prolific film factory, there are no movies about the middle class and their aspirations.

His way of addressing the problem is with this sweet, easygoing ensemble comedy, lightened up with clever boy-girl banter and made weightier with socially conscious drama about ageing parents, urban over-crowding, career pressure and disabilities.

Five millennial Mumbai-ites - Arjun (Barun Sobti), Rashid (Avinash Tiwary), Dominic (Vishal Malhotra), Mehernosh (Nakul Bhalla) and Jayesh (Jay Upadhyay) - find their weekly football game at the beach disrupted by an accident. The budding romance between the aimless Arjun and workaholic executive Kavya (Shahana Goswami) is handled with a charming lightness.

Dhaimade, in his feature debut, puts into the work a slickness carried over from his previous career in advertising.

The movie is composed of dozens of perfectly formed vignettes that get their snap from the language of commercials - the beery male bonding, the upbeat montage set to a ukulele-and-whistling soundtrack.

It's a stylistic choice that robs the story of rawness and immediacy, but it is clear that with Dhaimade, India has found its cute-couple movie with appeal to the Hollywood-leaning crowd, a secret that film-makers in Singapore have yet to crack.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 04, 2017, with the headline 'Good stories need better telling'. Print Edition | Subscribe