Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House

 

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A film that emerges as an unexpected companion piece to The Post.


Mark Felt

Liam Neeson with Julian Morris as Bob Woodward

 

Earlier this year we saw Steven Spielberg's The Post, which most unusually proved to be a film in which the sub-text was more important then the text. We know that to be so because Spielberg is on record as stating that he was determined to tell the story of the Pentagon Papers due to its relevance to Trump's stand-off with the press. Now we have a film written and directed by Peter Landesman depicting the events surrounding the Watergate Scandal of 1972 which led to the resignation of President Nixon. I had assumed that this time around this past history would stand in its own right notwithstanding the fact that the classic film All The President's Men (1976) had covered this very ground. Had my assumption been correct, it still seemed likely that Landesman, whose previous film Parkland (2013) took an unusual approach in portraying the Kennedy assassination, had something different to offer here. After all, as the title of his new film indicates, it sees events from the viewpoint of the man who leaked to the Washington Post the inside information that brought down Nixon, the man whose identity was long unknown but who was dubbed 'Deep Throat' by the press.

 

It was not until 2005 that this man was revealed to be Mark Felt who, with thirty years’ experience behind him, had been the FBI's Deputy Associate Director when its famous - and infamous - headman, J. Edgar Hoover, died. Passed over when Nixon chose L. Patrick Gray as Hoover's successor, Felt soon came to realise that the independence of the FBI was at stake especially when, after the Watergate burglary, pressure was applied to limit the investigation. That pressure was brought to bear by the CIA, the Attorney General and, as would eventually emerge, President Nixon himself.

 

Landesman's film, taking as its source material books by Felt himself and by John D. O'Connor, undoubtedly sets out to portray Felt as its hero and in this role Liam Neeson, escaping from his recent action movie roles, brings a suitable gravitas to bear. To suggest the real man make-up is clearly involved but since, in contrast to Churchill, Felt's appearance is not familiar to us no distraction results. Save for Felt's increasing realisation of how far he must go to end a corrupt administration, the role does not develop and the tale told is one for which life provided a large cast of characters for us to take on board. Nevertheless, the overall development of events emerges clearly. However, there are decided weaknesses in the writing and in the structure (on the latter point it can be said that the film's final scene would work better as a prologue introducing a tale told in flashback). The usually reliable Diane Lane playing Felt's wife suffers from having the least well written role, and a kind of sub-plot about the couple's missing daughter who is eventually traced to a commune is clumsily inserted.

 

But, despite its faults, the film does fascinate and that's largely because, intentionally or not, this story now seems like a pre-echo of President Trump's treatment of the FBI so that the film's insistence that the FBI should always be allowed to do its job comes over with a special resonance. What drives the film is not the over-obvious music score but the contemporary parallels that many viewers will see here.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Liam Neeson, Diane Lane, Marton Csokas, Ike Barinholtz, Tony Goldwyn, Bruce Greenwood, Michael C. Hall, Brian D'Arcy James, Josh Lucas, Eddie Marsan, Tom Sizemore, Maika Monroe, Julian Morris, Noah Wyle.

 

Dir Peter Landesman, Pro Ridley Scott, Giannina Scott, Marc Butan, Anthony Katagas, Peter Landesman, Steve Richards and Jay Roach, Screenplay Peter Landesman, from the books by Mark Felt and John O'Connor, Ph Adam Kimmel, Pro Des David Clark, Ed Tariq Anwar, Music Daniel Pemberton, Costumes Lorraine Z. Calvert.

 

Mandalay/MadRiver Pictures/Scott Free Productions/Cara Films/Riverstone Pictures-Vertigo Releasing.
103 mins. USA/People's Republic of China/UK. 2017. Rel: 23 March 2018. Cert. 12A.