Re­view: "Mark Felt" feels a bit un­der­whelm­ing

looks at the man be­hind Deep Throat

Sun.Star Cebu Weekend - - Content - Lind­sey Bahr AP Film Writer Sony Pic­tures Clas­sics via AP

As a life­time Fed­eral Bureau of In­ves­ti­ga­tion agent and No. 2 to J. Edgar Hoover, Mark Felt was not ex­actly an ordinary man, but he was, it seems, a highly un­likely can­di­date to top­ple a pres­i­dency. Felt was the man be­hind Deep Throat, the Water­gate whistle­blower who led Bob Wood­ward and Carl Bern­stein to the ex­plo­sive truth be­hind that break-in. He lived only as a shad­owy mys­tery in the pop­u­lar imag­i­na­tion un­til he gave up his long-held se­cret in 2005, a few years before he died. By then what he rep­re­sented had al­ready tran­scended any­thing an ac­tual hu­man could live up to.

It’s not a sur­prise then that the fic­tion­al­ized telling of his story in “Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House “is a lit­tle un­der­whelm­ing. The mun­dan­i­ties of the truth could hardly be as sexy as decades of in­trigue and mythol­ogy en­shrined in his­tory and the en­dur­ing great­ness of “All the President’s Men.” But direc­tor Peter Lan­des­man (“Con­cus­sion”) and star Liam Nee­son none­the­less man­age to weave to­gether a fairly com­pelling (if dis­puted ) tick-tock of how it all went down from Felt’s purview.

And it all started with a slight. We’re in­tro­duced to Felt in his ordinary sub­ur­ban home, get­ting ready for an­other day of work at the Bureau. He’s a tall and soft­spo­ken man who hides the dirty se­crets of the coun­try, and his or­ga­ni­za­tion, be­hind a stoic poker face. A few char­ac­ters at the out­set tell him (read: us) how loyal and re­li­able and com­pe­tent he is — a “golden re­triever” for whomever is in power. When J. Edgar Hoover dies, Felt is passed over for that top po­si­tion in fa­vor of Nixon fa­vorite L. Pa­trick Gray (Mar­ton Csokas) — a mighty snub that sows the seed of dis­con­tent­ment in Felt.

A lit­tle over a month af­ter Hoover’s death is when those five men are ar­rested for break­ing into the Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee head­quar­ter in the Water­gate com­plex. The pe­cu­liar facts of the case raise eye­brows at the FBI, but then the White House starts at­tempt­ing to in­ter­fere with what should be an in­de­pen­dent in­quiry. So Felt takes it upon him­self go an­other route — to the press.

As Felt, Nee­son is un­der­stated and con­vinc­ing de­spite his ten­dency to drift in and out of his na­tive Ir­ish ac­cent. He’s also deal­ing with more than just ex­ec­u­tive of­fice cor­rup­tion. On the home front, his grown daugh­ter has been miss­ing for a year, which has put a strain on him and his wife, Au­drey (Diane Lane). While it’s un­der­stand­able why Lan­des­man has in­cluded this back­ground, it also feels very tacked on and in­suf­fi­ciently ex­plored to have much of an im­pact. At the very least, it could have been cut for length.

The film is at its best when it is deal­ing with the cen­tral story, which can also at times feel like a bit of a repet­i­tive slog. Felt’s fel­low agents are not much more than suits, dis­tin­guish­able only by the fact that they’re por­trayed by rec­og­niz­able ac­tors ( Josh Lu­cas, Tony Gold­wyn, Ike Bar­in­holtz, Brian d’Arcy James) and while the day-to-day of what was hap­pen­ing at the FBI is a com­pelling slice of his­tory, as a film it can feel a lit­tle dry.

Largely ab­sent from the story are those two cen­tral me­dia fig­ures, Wood­ward and Bern­stein. They are there in spirit, and in print, and Wood­ward ( Julian Mor­ris) gets a brief mo­ment as a ner­vous and con­fused young thing meet­ing with Felt in an empty garage pro­vid­ing a sort of cin­e­matic ref­er­en­dum on the story as told from their point of view. Al­though stylis­ti­cally, Lan­des­man has clearly sub­scribed to the muted col­ors and mood set by Alan J. Pakula and Gor­don Willis in “All the President’s Men.”

The shadow of that film is a hand­i­cap, but more so, “Mark Felt” the movie just never rises to the level of its own story.

Liam Nee­son in “Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House.”

Diane Lane and Liam Nee­son

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