Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House

The movie that made Watergate less interesting.

When I taught college journalism, there was one thing I included on the syllabus every quarter: a midterm viewing of All the President’s Men. Watching young reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein track down leads and overcome obstacles served as an example of the hard work, luck, and dogged reporting it took to break a big story. Aside from providing journalistic inspiration, the movie also entertained; it was as much a detective thriller as it was a historical account.

Anyone looking for an exciting, eye-opening supplementary sequel to All the President’s Men, however, will not find it in this movie.

Having seen that film probably 15 times, I was interested to hear about the release of the new biopic Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House. In 2005, Felt revealed himself to be “Deep Throat,” the informant who gave Woodward tips that ultimately helped the Washington Post crack the code of the whole Watergate story. The new movie, starring Liam Neeson as Felt, serves as a supplement to the better-known story. Despite a strong effort from Neeson, Felt never delivers on its potential as a gripping, focused profile on one of history’s more intriguing characters.

Felt had worked for the FBI for 30 years by the time the Watergate scandal found its way into the mainstream national news. When FBI director J. Edgar Hoover died in 1972, many people in the bureau thought Felt had earned his spot at the top. The movie portrays Felt as a loyalist to Hoover and the FBI, although President Richard Nixon bypassed him for someone over whom he could exert more control. In the film, Felt internally pursues the Watergate leads while ignoring warnings from his boss—and the White House—to bury the story. He doesn’t leak information to Woodward out of spite or revenge, but rather to protect the integrity of the FBI.

Writer/director Peter Landesman had a difficult decision about which story to tell. Should he tell Felt’s story pre-Watergate and show his rise as a loyal, federal servant? Or does he go all in on Watergate, which is the more familiar story? Landesman steers toward the latter, but the problem there is that people who go see this movie already know that story. The new movie doesn’t offer a lot of new insight, which leads to it dragging a bit. Landesman could have shown 10 minutes of Felt’s prior work with Hoover, building up a story of loyalty that would carry over to the Watergate investigation.

Despite Neeson’s best efforts, perhaps the biggest issue is that Felt is simply more interesting as a supporting character than a leading one. The film wants us to believe Felt is a leading character. The brooding, overly dramatic, ever present music screams, “This man is important and mysterious!” Even the movie’s title forcefully states who he is and why he is important. Felt played an important role in “bringing down the White House,” but he needed Woodward and Bernstein every bit as they needed him.

Perhaps someone with no prior history of Felt and the Watergate investigation would find Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House interesting and new. Anyone looking for an exciting, eye-opening supplementary sequel to All the President’s Men, however, will not find it in this movie. The better option is to watch All the President’s Men for a second (or 16th) time.

2 out of 4 stars. Rated PG-13 for intense scenes, excessive smoking, and a melodramatic/sometimes overbearing score.

 

All reviews express the opinions of the reviewer, not necessarily the views of Third Way.

 

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