By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3 (Out of 4 Stars)
On August 8, 1974, US President Richard M. Nixon announced on television his resignation from office. As most people know, the Watergate break in, its investigation by the FBI and the coverage by the press led to the downfall of the 37th president. Key to this moment in US history is the information provided by an insider to Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward, whose coverage of the scandal would fuel mass speculation of wrongdoing by the Nixon administration. That insider, as revealed decades later, turned out to be Mark Felt, a high level FBI agent who, for many years, was only known by the code name, “Deep Throat.” Writer/director Peter Landesman’s film tells the story from Felt’s perspective and how he witnessed the corruption taking place between the Executive Branch of the US government and the very law enforcement agency to which he dedicated his life for thirty years.
Liam Neeson stars as Mark Felt, and the story begins with the death of FBI director J. Edgar Hoover and its immediate aftermath. Felt, who, at the time, seemed most likely to fill the vacant position, gets slighted by the Nixon administration in favor of Assistant Attorney General Pat Gray (Marton Czokas). In the film Gray serves as an insider leaking FBI information to the White House. After the Watergate break in takes place and the ensuing scandal escalates, Felt witnesses the corruption and cover up of the Watergate scandal and other highly questionable behavior in both the White House and within his bureau. As a result, Felt undergoes a personal conflict of loyalty versus justice and eventually sees no other option, but to leak information to the press. This decision not only jeopardizes his previously stellar career, but could also endanger his life and the lives of his family members.
With Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House, filmmaker Peter Landesman (Kill the Messenger) offers a very personal perspective of Felt and ably gets into the mindset of a man who feels betrayed by the very institutions he swore to defend. Though the film does have some genuinely tense moments, I feel that it also has its share of weak attempts at suspense and tension, and often gets bogged down by too many procedural elements. The shaky, handheld cinematography by Adam Kimmel works well in some of the tense scenes, but gets tiresome and frustrating in scenes that don’t really need it at all.
Though the writing works adequately, it is the acting by the talented cast that really sells the story and drama. In addition to Neeson, Diane Lane stars as Mark Felt’s wife Audrey, and delivers a passionate performance. The movie also has great turns by Marton Csokas, Tony Goldwyn, Ike Barinholtz, Josh Lucas, Maika Monroe, Michael C. Hall, Tom Sizemore and much more. Liam Neeson is the one who truly shines, though, as Mark Felt, the conflicted career FBI man who must question the ethics of his work and the moral dilemma of becoming a government whistle blower. His performance certainly adds much dimension and character to a mysterious historical figure who ultimately made the right decision. Both the screenplay and Neeson’s performance offers a more complete portrait of not only the troubled G-man, but the husband and father dealing with other problems at home.
And it is this personal and more in-depth look at Mark Felt’s multi-faceted life, that keeps this movie compelling. The conspiracy thriller aspect doesn’t work as well as other moviea such as Michael Mann’s The Insider or especially, All the President’s Men, which offers the perspectives of Watergate by journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. I still recommend this film as either a matinee or rental, as it makes for an informative piece and features some excellent acting by the cast. My recommendation is to watch Alan Pakula’s All the President’s Men, which truly is an exceptional political thriller, and follow it with this solid portrait of Mark Felt. These two movies would make for a great double feature.