For over 30 years, the identity of "Deep Throat" remained a mystery. And when it was finally revealed in 2005 that the informant was Mark Felt, the #2 man at the FBI during the Watergate scandal, by Felt himself in a "Vanity Fair" article, the truth was greeted with an air of disappointment.
"Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House" relives those suspenseful days of American history which appear to be repeating themselves in our current political climate. Based on Felt's own books, "The FBI Pyramid" and "A G-Man's Life", both written with John O'Connor, writer/director/producer Peter Landesman presents the details of Watergate from a totally different perspective than "All the President's Men".
Instead of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein telling this story, "Mark Felt" catapults the audience into the power offices of the U.S. government. As Nixon and the White House try to enforce a cover-up, Felt (Liam Neeson), a devoted, life-long FBI man, above reproach, feeds secret information regarding the Watergate break-in to Bob Woodward (Julian Morris), a reporter for the "Washington Post" and Sandy Smith (Bruce Greenwood) of "Time Magazine".
With the death of J. Edgar Hoover, everyone assumed Felt would be named as the new director of the FBI. Nixon had other plans, and installs Assistant Attorney General L. Patrick Gray (Marton Czokas) as Acting Director, a person he could control. Felt and his closest agents, Ed Miller (Tony Goldwyn), Charlie Bates (Josh Lucas), Angelo Lano (Ike Barinholtz) and Robert Kunkel (Brian d'Arcy James) conspire to continue to investigate Nixon and his dangerous minions, after being told by Gray and White House Chief Counsel John Dean (Michael C. Hall) to falsify a damaging memo.
While all of this subterfuge is going on at the FBI, Felt is also dealing with his lonely, fragile wife, Audrey (Diane Lane) and his missing daughter, Joan (Maika Monroe), whom he suspects may have run off to join a terrorist organization. He searches for her, desperate to find her before the FBI officially does.
"Mark Felt" is an important clarification of the scandal which forced Nixon to resign --- and the complicated story of the man who caused it. Reliving this reprehensible period of corruption, greed and moral degradation serves to remind us what is necessary to keep the office of the President of the United States free from such deceit. Only time will tell if our current administration will survive the ongoing Russian investigation.
Landesman was convinced that only Neeson could portray Felt. He personifies the steadfastness with which Felt performed his duties. Around the time in 2005, when Felt admitted to being "Deep Throat", a moniker he fiercely despised, he was already suffering from dementia. He never really explained his reasons for his actions, we can only be thankful that he chose to do the right thing.
Neeson's portrayal is quietly stellar. He was born to play roles such as this, and Oskar Schindler in "Schindler's List". My only complaint -- and this is no fault of Neeson's --- is his makeup. At times, he looks as if he's been embalmed to play Felt. His face appears waxy, pale and shiny. I found it distracting, but not enough to change my opinion of his performance.
Landesman has assembled quite a cast. Every single actor is capable of carrying a film on her/his own, but he has recruited them to play supporting roles --- sometimes with only a line or two. Hall's role as Dean is quite small, but pivotal to the story, and Hall is masterful, as always.
Goldwyn and Lucas make excellent conspirators to Neeson's Felt. They have both the stature and the chops for complete believability. And Lane is, in fact, perfect. Audrey was vulnerable, an alcoholic and perhaps even bipolar, so Lane treats her character with just the right amount of volatility and empathy.
"Mark Felt" is the very beginning of the very busy Fall into Christmas movie schedule. It's a juicy teaser of all that is to come --- and one that begs to be seen.
Opinion: See It Now!
I can't think of a more perfect actor to portray Mark Felt than Liam Neeson. After a string of superfluous film roles (aside from 2016's "Silence") "Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House" allows Neeson to showcase his dramatic acting chops, his best performance since "Schindler's List".
Movie fans under the age of about 55 will have no recollection of the actual Watergate affair, up to now the most infamous American government scandal of modern times. The current turmoil under 45 may very well eclipse the sins of the Nixon administration --- we can only hope.
Unlike other movies involving Watergate, such as "All the President's Men" or "Frost/Nixon", "Mark Felt" focuses on the corruption inside the White House, as opposed to external factors like the Washington Post reporters who broke the story, and the eventual Watergate hearings that riveted this country for many months.
Instead, the film is squarely centered on Felt, the man identified as "Deep Throat", the most infamous whistleblower in American history. (Sorry, Snowden). But Felt's secret stayed hidden for over 30 years until he revealed it himself in a 2005 "Vanity Fair" article.
Writer/director Peter Landesman ("Parkland", "Concussion") has filled his cast with veteran actors like Bruce Greenwood, Eddie Marsan, Josh Lucas, Tony Goldwyn, Noah Wyle and Michael C. Hall. The always terrific Diane Lane plays Felt's tragic wife, Audrey, and Maika Monroe (memorable in the surprise horror hit "It Follows") is Felt's daughter, Joan.
The film skims over key Watergate characters like John Dean (Hall), and barely mentions other notables in the scandal like John Ehrlichman and H. R. Bob Haldeman. But the key individuals involved in this perspective of Watergate come fast and furious. I would have liked the filmmakers to superimpose character names on the screen as they first appeared, strictly for clarity. But that's a small complaint.
"Mark Felt" is Neeson's film, and he doesn't disappoint. The veteran actor displays all the grit, passion and uncertainty of what the real man must have experienced. And the real Mark Felt didn't live to see this movie about the political spectacle he exacerbated. He died in 2008 at age 95.
Opinion: See It Now!