Liam Neeson stars in this solidly engrossing political drama about the man who was Deep Throat
Dir: Peter Landesman, US, 2017. 103 mins
The name Mark Felt might not immediately ring any bells - but it will when you realise that he was Deep Throat, the shadowy, insider figure who exposed the truth about the Watergate break-in. A perfect double-bill companion to All The President’s Men, Mark Felt-The Man Who Brought Down The White House transforms Felt’s story into a solidly engrossing political drama, anchored by a commanding central performance from Liam Neeson.
There is a stern, steely quality to Neeson’s performance that carries something of an Old Testament preacher
Most likely to appeal to an older audience with a knowledge of Watergate, it could attract a wider demographic drawn by the parallels with the current tumultuous times in the Washington swamp.
Felt spent more than thirty years in the FBI and was the most loyal of company men, which made him the unlikeliest of whistleblowers. The crux of The Man Who Brought Down The White House is an examination of events both personal and political that led him to contemplate what were acts of treason. Early in the film, Felt is portrayed as a pillar of integrity. A gaunt, silvery-haired Neeson plays Felt with poker-faced aplomb. He is a sphinx-like figure who treads confidently through the corridors of power, guards the nation’s secrets and knows where all the bodies are buried.
When FBI director J. Edgar Hoover dies in 1972, Felt is widely expected to be appointed as his successor. Even when Pat Gray (a reptilian Martin Csokas) is chosen as acting director, Felt does not resign because of a belief that he needs to remain and protect the integrity of the Bureau.
Structured around the countdown to the Presidential Election of 1972, the film focuses on the role of the FBI in investigating the break-in at the Democratic Headquarters in the Watergate hotel and following the “trail of breadcrumbs” that led directly to the guilty party in the Oval Office - President Nixon. There are elements of a (smaller scale) Oliver Stone conspiracy thriller as we are encouraged to join the dots of the unprecedented political interference in the running of the FBI. There is a rogue’s gallery of corrupt establishment figures using their power to silence investigations, deny reality and ensure that justice was thwarted at every turn.
The guiding line through a complex narrative is the anguished, soul-searching of Felt. His wife Audrey (a sardonic, martini-swilling Diane Lane) may call him her “white knight” but there is also a righteous anger to him. There is a stern, steely quality to Neeson’s performance that carries something of an Old Testament preacher. He sees the decision to leak classified information to the Washington Post and Time magazine as part of a moral crusade that few others seem to comprehend. He is fighting for the independence of the FBI and the soul of the nation.
Writer-director Peter Landesman sacrifices some of the film’s focus to incorporate the sentimental side story of Felt’s search for his missing daughter, a radical who has embraced the counterculture lifestyle. Generally, he shows a sure touch in guiding us through complex events and leaves you thinking what a great subject Mark Felt would have made for a Fog Of War-style documentary confessional.
Production companies: Mandalay Entertainment Group, Torridon Films, Mad River Pictures, Endurance Media, Scott Free Productions, Cara Films, Riverstone Pictures
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Producers: Ridley Scott, Giannina Scott, Marc Butan, Anthony Katagas, Peter Landesman, Steve Richards, Jay Roach
Screenplay: Peter Landesman based on the book by Mark Felt and John O’Connor
Cinematography: Adam Kimmel
Editor: Tariq Anwar
Prod des: David Crank
Music: Daniel Pemberton
Main cast: Liam Neeson, Diane Lane, Marton Csokas, Michael C Hall