MARK FELT: THE MAN WHO BROUGHT DOWN THE WHITE HOUSE
Starring Liam Neeson. Rated PG
Given the obvious parallels to the level 2
of insanity loose in the corridors of U.S. power today, this is a movie that needed to be made right now. And perhaps we’ll have to settle for it having been made by people who didn’t really know what they were doing.
Liam Neeson is a great choice to play Felt, deputy director of the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover, subsequently revealed to be the anonymous Deep Throat who helped the Washington Post’s Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein bring down the presidency of Richard Nixon. With his silvery hair, erect bearing, and tailored dark suits, he captures the leonine self-image of a career G-man like Felt—or Bob Mueller, for that matter.
The Irish actor’s accent certainly doesn’t line up with the Idaho-born Felt’s, however, nor does New Zealand’s youngish Marton Csokas line up particularly well with L. Patrick Gray, a craggy naval officer and lawyer with no investigative experience whom Nixon decided to install in place of Hoover, who died suddenly in early 1972, when this rather makeshift tale begins. It’s clear enough in the script by writer-director Peter Landesman that Felt was as peeved by being passed over for the top job as he was by the growing awareness that the prez had authorized a cheap hack of his Democratic opponents in the upcoming election. Back then, they called that a burglary.
The fact that EX–CIA men were working directly for Tricky Dick was a big deal to Felt, and a large part of what drove those reporters to dig deeper in All the President’s Men. Arriving 40 years later, this so-so effort is intended as a reverse view of events, with Woodward only glimpsed in a few underground scenes. But the new movie can’t quite decide where its focus should lie. From this distance, a more documentary approach, à la Spotlight, might have helped illuminate some lesser-known manoeuvres. But Landesman shoots the whole movie in parkinggarage light and has lots of suspense piano tinkling on the soundtrack. This approach is at odds with the scenes of Neeson parrying with an underused Diane Lane as Felt’s neglected wife, and the subplot with their daughter, who has joined a hippie commune, falls flat. They had a son, too—mark Jr.—but he’s written out of the story. The movie also shifts some of Felt’s less noble deeds to FBI rival Bill Sullivan (Tom Sizemore), who later died somewhat mysteriously. Well, this is based on his memoirs. And, almost a decade after his death, the guy is still getting even.