Saturday, May 18, 2024

White House Plumbers (2023) movie review.

The political fallout caused by Liddy, Hunt, their first arrested associates, the Nixon administration, etc., are used to evoke paranoia, conspiracy, and distrust. Fifty years later, those concepts are old hat on a national scale. Now, Watergate is a joke on America’s infrastructure. “White House Plumbers” offers the lightest fun in tracing these country-defining events, with Liddy and Hunt as our guides, but the five-episode series ultimately flattens into a bland historical reenactment sometimes laced with cartoonish reactions.

With each episode directed by David Mandel (also a “Veep” alum, along with Gregory and Huyck), “White House Plumbers” initially gets considerable momentum from the weirdness of its two lead shows. Justin Theroux is as pompous as can be with Liddy’s fake-looking, black moustache, neatly combined with the agent’s unsettling love of Hitler speeches, guns, and a penchant for holding his hand over a flame as a gesture of credibility. his. Shea Whigham previously played this larger-than-life figure in Starz’s Watergate and Martha Mitchell’s Gaslight with even more feverish intensity, at one point stealing the show from Julia Roberts by taking on a prison rat. But Theroux’s self-amusement with the character is quite infectious; it’s in the way his Liddy speaks regally, like he’s already the star of a mini-series in his head. Mandel often embraces wide-angle lenses to make his characters seem even larger than life in the frame (seen this week to similar effect in David Lowery’s “Peter Pan & Wendy”), and it’s a particularly fitting way to capture Theroux’s wild work.

Harrelson gets even more screen time than Hunt, with the show trying to figure out how wrong Hunt was. “White House Plumbers” gets a few laughs out of the fact that Hunt is just a layer outside of Liddy’s mind or that he’s an eccentric father with a secret job. But Harrelson’s face and gurgling voice make up for an otherwise comedic and dramatic performance. There’s a tragic element to Hunt’s character that Harrelson doesn’t quite get, and it’s a missed opportunity.

“White House Plumbers” is at its best before it gets to Watergate, with the first half describing how Liddy and Hunt were bombastic but somehow good at their jobs, which helped them lead the Committee on Corrupt Nixon for Re-Election of President. (The title comes from how they were known for “fixing leaks.”) The series ups its comedy a bit here. Harrelson and Theroux recount richly narrated events that have a grain of truth, and flourish in a passage about the therapist’s investigation of Daniel Ellsberg (who brilliantly published The Pentagon Papers). We watch Liddy and Hunt, in ridiculously fake wigs, doing silly things like pose in front of the camera used during a break-in (it only gets worse when Hunt doesn’t release the footage before reaching the authorities later). It’s Coen Brothers-lite with the bittersweetness of the story and a palpable sense of how poorly conceived every move is. Their patriotism is not just the puff of their conceit; will get them into serious trouble.

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