The story of Mark Felt, who under the name “Deep Throat” helped journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein uncover the Watergate scandal in 1974.
When you see a new movie with Liam Neeson you think to yourself: I will find it and I will watch it. But “Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down The White House” is not your typical Neeson on a mission movie. He hasn’t gone as far from his target as he did in “Love Actually,” but this is a definite detour from the path he normally takes, a mid-life crisis even. Maybe he had to prove to himself he could fully master another genre and decided to try his hand on a political film. He was almost convincing as the infamous ‘Deep Throat.’ Something was missing, though, like a gun in his hand or actual details about the Watergate Scandal instead of a series of clips meant to be ominous; either would have improved the evasive plot.
The Watergate scandal and Nixon in office took place a few years before I existed, this is not to say I could not have studied the scandal or paid more attention when my history teacher was talking, but suffice it to say I went into this movie with little information about what actually happened back in 1972 between the White House and the FBI. I expected the movie would fill in some of the Swiss cheese for me and it did. I now know many of the names of people involved in the affair. In case you were unaware, Mark Felt is based on the true story about the Watergate Scandal. Queue Liam Neeson, FBI second-in-command. The small kahuna who can see the White House from his office window.
A run-in with Bill Sullivan, the dirty man who helped Felt get his job, showed Felt’s priorities fell to the cleaner sides of politics than the majority of his peers. Then J. Edgar Hoover died and Felt assumed this was his opportunity to be first-in-command for the FBI. The White House and the CIA wanted a man they could lead, not a man who would lead. They brought in their own man, L. Patrick Gray, their own personal patsy to order around, who would ignore what needed to be ignored.
Back at home, Mark’s wife Audrey (Diane Lane) was more annoyed than her husband that he did not receive the job. Thirteen moves, a runaway teen, few friends to have over for drinks caused the couple many blocks to stumble over throughout the years. Lane was the perfect person for this role. When she yelled every husband in the audience quivered in the corner. Her honesty was a thing of beauty, unlike her screen hubby who felt stiff in his role. The couple shared the agenda of searching communes for their wayward daughter while Felt contended with a boss who rolled over for a belly rub any time the White House whimpered.
With a coward for a boss, Felt decided to leak the scandal details to the press after Gray failed to handle and investigate in an effective manner. Mark Felt was not just a member of the FBI, he breathed his job. He sacrificed his family life to keep the agency safe and operating well. When he knew outside forces would cause all his hard work and the bureau to crumble, he made the decision to betray the organization to bring down those determined to ruin the country with lies and corruption.
The majority of the political thriller focused on covert meetings between Felt and Time Magazine’s Sandy Smith, along with a few other reporters, Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, more than willing to take Felt’s secrets, and the secrets from Hoover’s personal files, to the public. As history tells it, Mark’s decision to betray his position and leak, led to the loss of many jobs, including President Nixon and the Attorney General. Mark faced a jury before the film ended, to answer for his crimes while not quite giving away his true identity in a rather pitiful ending where Neeson does a far away stare to avoid admitting he was ‘Deep Throat.’
Neeson on the screen is not enough for a film meant to showcase a particular event that failed to tell the tale. Scattered snapshots and far more names and faces than could be remembered, hurt the ready-made plot. A few clips of the hotel on the pixelated television does not tell the viewers what happened inside the Watergate hotel. Mark Felt was FBI but this story was more than just FBI. The whole backstory of Felt and his family fell short and flat. The Watergate saga has passed down through the decades and deserved a clear and decisive telling, not a muddled partial story that left viewers disengaged and unsatisfied. With politics so heated now, a well-orchestrated political film could have helped the youth of today understand a different period and offer some perspective on those in charge of our country now.
In theaters Friday, October 13th