UK Release Date: 9th July 2018
Runtime: 103 minutes
Director: Peter Landesman
Writer: Peter Landesman
Starring: Liam Neeson, Diane Lane, Marton Csokas, Tony Goldwyn, Bruce Greenwood, Maika Monroe, Michael C Hall, Ike Barinholtz, Julian Morris
Synopsis: The story of the eponymous FBI veteran, who passed information to journalists during the Watergate Scandal, given the nickname Deep Throat.
At first glance, Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House might not seem like the most obvious 21st century project for Liam Neeson. This protagonist is as soft-spoken and restrained as Neeson himself and, when he meets someone in an empty multi-storey car park, he gives them a file of government secrets rather than a punch to the jaw. However, Neeson’s modern oeuvre can be defined by its focus on good men who are thrust into questionable actions by their circumstances, and that’s a description that perfectly encapsulates Felt – the FBI “lifer” who would later turn against his own government by leaking Watergate secrets to the press and earning himself the notorious alias of Deep Throat.
We meet Felt – a reliable, morally steadfast man compared to a loyal Golden Retriever – immediately following the death of J Edgar Hoover. When Assistant Attorney General Patrick Gray (Marton Csokas) is hired as his replacement rather than Felt, the experienced FBI man immediately smells a rat. This coincides with the shadowy beginnings of what would become the Watergate scandal and sends the previously tight-lipped Felt into the arms of Time journalist Sandy Smith (Bruce Greenwood) and the Washington Post‘s Bob Woodward (Julian Morris).
The subject matter of Mark Felt is intriguing, despite the very well-worn tale of Watergate having been told in movie form on numerous occasions. The shift of focus to Felt is an interesting one, but writer-director Peter Landesman struggles to find a way to tell the story differently. Indeed, he instead packs in an underbaked and not particularly interesting subplot involving Felt’s wayward daughter Joan (Maika Monroe), who may or may not be linked to a cell of leftist agitators. Equally short-changed is Diane Lane as Felt’s wife, who appears only to deliver a series of monologues. She’s brilliant in the brief flashes she is given and the lack of time afforded to her is perhaps the movie’s biggest missed opportunity.
Neeson, however, is precisely as competent and engaging as audiences have come to expect, bringing his presence and gravitas to a complicated role. Felt knows how to play the game and chooses his every word carefully, concealing his own duplicity while also trying to ensure that the FBI continues its investigation into Watergate, despite pressure from the White House. Surprisingly, the final flourish that leads to Nixon stepping aside is somewhat under-played and rolled into a rushed third act that also brings in Felt’s retirement and a reunion with his daughter.
This is a movie that has all of the constituent parts of a compelling prestige drama, but simply lacks the flair to bring it all together into an enjoyable package. Compared to the exhilarating machinations of Steven Spielberg‘s The Post, it feels like a rather minor take on one of the most significant periods of time in recent American history. Somewhat ironically given Felt’s vulgar moniker, this is a shallow depiction of the crumbling corridors of power.
Nothing on the disc I had for review.
Pop or Poop?
Despite a good Liam Neeson performance and some prime political material, Mark Felt is a rather tedious drama that treads a familiar path rather than finding a different angle to explore. A stellar supporting cast is not enough to elevate Peter Landesman’s muddled, mediocre script.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.
Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House is available on DVD everywhere in the UK now courtesy of Vertigo Releasing.