Some entertaining intrigue about a super famous scandal, but not enough.
Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House
Director: Peter Landesman (Concussion, Parkland)
Screenplay: Landesman, based on books by Felt and John D. O’Connor)
Cast: Liam Neeson (Taken), Diane Lane (Unfaithful)
Runtime: 1 hr 43 min
by John DeSando
Astonishing: The most famous whistleblower in history gets his own docudrama, and it’s a bit dull. Mark Felt (Liam Neeson), aka “Deep Throat,” is tag lined in the movie’s title as “the man who brought down the White House.” The 2005 Vanity Fair article finally told the story, and this rendition hints at much intrigue left untold. It’s the other side of All the President’s Men but not nearly as well done.
As the deputy associate director of the FBI, Felt knew so much that he couldn’t be fired for fear he’d reveal all. Yes, he had control of Hoover’s “private files” (lots of sexual indiscretions) after his death in 1972, and he had 31 years of service. To boot, he was a straight arrow whom the dirty tricksters in the White House should have feared.
So how could this be a dull story? In the first place, the salient actions by the Watergate burglars and the foul machinations of Nixon’s henchmen are barely exposed as drama. More importantly, the seminal investigative gymnastics of Woodward and Bernstein are skimmed over in favor of a Dustin Hoffman lookalike (Julian Morris) as Woodward, who was played by Robert Redford, looking star struck when Felt begins his covert revelations. More integral is Sandy Smith (Bruce Greenwood) of Time Magazine as Felt unloads info on him as well.
While we are left with a Cliff’s Notes superficial version of the events leading to Nixon’s resignation, we endure the domestic dilemmas of a boozy wife (Diane Lane) disappointed that Felt was passed over for director and a missing daughter, embarrassingly attached to a commune, we find out eventually. In the latter detail rests a better story of how Felt investigated Weatherman activities with a conflict of interest angle related to his daughter. (Reagan commuted Felt’s sentence for unauthorized searches).
That is to say, there is so much action in those early ‘70’s related to Tricky Dick that the movie seems to leave behind as it gets the right angles for its raft of Neeson close-ups. More close-ups of the FBI activity would have been better. All the President’s Men and Spotlight are far more interesting at giving you the daily details leading to their disclosures.
But, hey, it is instructive to see that 45 years ago, the FBI asserted its independence from the White House. It had a sleazy administration to buck, all the more reason to fight the good fight. If you think there is resonance today with James Comey's firing, then hope for a Deep Throat. Looks like there are candidates already working out there.
John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.rr.com