The Watergate scandal, which engulfed the entire American public at large, and the administration of president Richard Nixon, was the single greatest political scandal in U.S. history. But for a long time, one of the great mysteries of that scandal was that of the identity a mysterious informant who gave information about the scandal to writers Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward of the Washington Post, but was never identified by his real name, only by a code name called Deep Throat. This character, portrayed by Hal Holbrook in the 1976 classic ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN, was later revealed to be Mark Felt, a former top man inside the FBI dating back to the days when J. Edgar Hoover ruled the roost, and beyond Hoover's death in May 1972. Felt's own story has now been told in the gripping political drama MARK FELT: THE MAN WHO BROUGHT DOWN THE WHITE HOUSE.
Liam Neeson portrays the long-time FBI executive who stands as a paragon of truth and integrity even as the FBI, by 1972, is still under the control of J. Edgar Hoover, as it had been since its founding in 1924. When Hoover dies, Neeson is thought to be the front-runner for the FBI director's post. Instead, however, that goes to Pat Gray (Martin Csokas), a law enforcement neophyte and, for lack of a better term, a glorified lackey to Nixon. Then comes June 17, 1972, the morning that five guys are caught with their hands in the cookie jar at the Democratic National Committee's headquarters inside the Watergate hotel. Neeson, still a senior adviser, is intent on having the FBI proceed with the investigation wherever it leads, and how far up in the government it goes; but Csokas only gives him 48 hours to finish the whole thing, then the bureau can wipe its hands off this so-called "third-rate burglary". Neeson, however, is undaunted; and very soon, under cover of anonymity, he gives things he knows from inside the bureau to Time Magazine writer Sandy Smith (Bruce Greenwood), and to Woodward (Julian Morris), who reveals to Neeson that he has been given the secret informant moniker of Deep Throat (the name being derived from the title of the notorious 1972 X-rated film).
Torn between the pressure of being loyal to the FBI and wanting the truth to get out about Watergate, and the various mini-scandals surrounding it (including bugging and wiretapping of the enemies of Nixon being conducted by Nixon's little Plumbers task force), Neeson also must mend fences with his daughter (Maika Monroe), who had become part of the radical Weather Underground, the domestic ISIS/Al Qaeda of its time. When Neeson retires after thirty-one years of service, his revelations about Watergate have already started the ball rolling on the implosion of the Nixon administration. This is not to make Felt out to be a saint, however; he was convicted for his part in illegal activities against 60s radicals, and spent a year in prison, before being pardoned by Reagan in 1981, and then, shortly after his passing in 2005, having him be revealed as Deep Throat.
Writer/director Peter Landesman, who also wrote and directed the 2015 sports drama CONCUSSION (about the NFL's attempt to cover up head injuries among their players for decades), brings a great deal out of this story, which may be two or three generations removed for 21st century audiences but which also seems as relevant as it was during the turbulent early and mid-1970s. Like ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN, MARK FELT's existence is not predicated on how and/or where the story ends, but how one gets to that end. Neeson's performance as Mark Felt is one of extreme gravitas, making it clear that, whatever else they might do, the FBI is supposed to be a totally independent body to investigate high crimes, and that, however secretly, Csokas' loyalty to a president who is morally bankrupt is forcing him to go rogue and be a whistleblower.
Greenwood, Tony Goldwyn, and Tom Sizemore give very convincing performances in their roles; and the basic darkness of the story is well-established, as is the paranoia created by a presidency that trusts nobody, not even those in its inner circle, engulfs many people and morally compromises others, even, at times, Felt himself. At a time when Hollywood seems intent on avoiding good compelling stories that are based on events that are not as arcane or ancient as some like to make them out to be, MARK FELT: THE MAN WHO BROUGHT DOWN THE WHITE HOUSE is an important film of our time.
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