Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House (2017)

  • Time: 103 min
  • Genre: Biography | Drama | History
  • Director: Peter Landesman
  • Cast: Liam Neeson, Diane Lane, Kate Walsh, Marton Csokas


The story of Mark Felt, who under the name “Deep Throat” helped journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein uncover the Watergate scandal in 1972.

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  • “It is our job to follow the breadcrumbs, but those breadcrumbs appear to be taking us on a tour of the West Wing of the White House and in the general direction of the Oval Office,” Mark Felt, the Deputy Associate Director of the FBI, tells his men. Felt is arguably the greatest whistleblower in American history, finally revealing himself in 2005 to be Deep Throat, the anonymous source who helped journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein uncover the Watergate scandal.

    Deep Throat was an appropriately shadowy figure in Alan J. Pakula’s All the President’s Men, the superb drama that depicted Woodward and Bernstein’s efforts and which is even more resonant in today’s political climate, but Felt takes the spotlight in Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House, adapted from Felt’s 2006 autobiography by director Peter Landesman. The film is a sturdy enough account of how Felt came to be Deep Throat and, while few films can every surpass much less match Pakula’s film as the definitive telling of the scandal, it would have done well to aim for its procedural intensity and narrative urgency. Nevertheless, Mark Felt provides Liam Neeson with one of his best leading roles in years.

    The film begins in 1972. Nixon is on track to be elected as President for a second term in less than six months despite the Vietnam War protestors that crowd in front of the White House. The death of longtime FBI Director, J. Edgar Hoover, has provided the White House with a perfect opportunity to establish a more transactional relationship with the organisation, which has always been its own separate and independent fiefdom. To that end, he installs L. Patrick Gray (Marton Csokas) as Hoover’s successor, passing over 30-year veteran Felt, the dedicated “G-man’s G-man” who was Hoover’s second-in-command. “They don’t deserve you,” his wife Audrey (Diane Lane) says, urging him to resign but he replies that he’ll go when the bureau is in better hands.

    More rankling than being pushed aside for an outsider is the nagging feeling that Gray appears more loyal to Nixon than the FBI, especially when he observes Gray conversing with White House Counsel John Dean (Michael C. Hall) soon after the Watergate break-in. Gray further confirms Felt’s suspicions when he tells Felt to wrap up the investigation within 48 hours. Felt, determined not to have the FBI stripped of its authority which he believes would have damning repercussions for the state of the country, starts leaking information to his journalist contacts – Time magazine reporter Sandy Smith (Bruce Greenwood) and the Washington Post’s Woodward (Julian Morris) – as a means of keeping the investigation open, whilst doing his best to outmanoeuvre the White House’s attempts to ferret out the mole and shut down his investigation.

    Mark Felt is fairly riveting when it sticks closely to the twisty office politics between Felt and many of the president’s men, less so when it attempts to flesh out Felt’s personal life, which includes a distracting subplot about his daughter who vanished a year ago and may now be involved with militant activists. These scenes add nothing to better understanding Felt. If anything, it’s best when Felt is left to be a figure of shadowy motivations and ruthless tactics. Though he is drawn as an unimpeachable figure of integrity, bravery and fidelity, Neeson never lets viewers forget that this is a man who is not above utilising questionable methods in order to preserve his honour and that of the FBI’s. It’s a commanding performance, and one that saves the film from being a run-of-the-mill biopic.

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