Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House (2017)
It’s 1972, and Mark Felt (Liam Neeson) is getting ready for work while listening to the news, most of which is about President Richard Nixon and his campaign reelection. We see Mark standing outside by his pool silently smoking a cigarette.
We cut to Washington D.C. as we drive by all the familiar sites, including the White House, which has protesters outside its gates demonstrating against the Vietnam War. Mark, the FBI’s Deputy Associate Director, comes in the office of the Assistant to the President for Domestic Affairs. John Dean (Michael C. Hall) tells Mark that the President wants the head of the F.B.I., J. Edgar Hoover, to resign, with the implication that he would be promoted to Hoover’s slot as John Mitchell (Stephen Michael Ayers) and John Ehrlichman (Wayne Pere) look on. Mark tells them that any gossip, dirty deeds or secrets that are found by the F.B.I. are given to Hoover, and he decides to either act on it or just put it away in his personal file. Mark tells the three men that as long as Hoover is in power; their secrets are safe and he exits the room, leaving behind three defeated men.
Mark arrives at his home, where agent Ed Miller (Tony Goldwyn) and his wife (Kate Walsh) are having drinks on the couch with Mark’s wife, Audrey (Diane Lane). It’s evident that the two couples do this a lot as they joke, drink and dance away the night.
The next morning, Mark arrives back at work, greeted by his loyal secretary; Carol (Wendi McLendon-Covey) gives him the latest updates. Ed walks in giving a briefing to Mark, handing him paperwork on the terrorist group the Weather Underground. Another agent walks in and announces that “Mr. Hoover is dead.” Mark tells the men “Put everything in motion. No mistakes, not one.” We see F.B.I agents gathering boxes after boxes of paperwork and then burning them or shredding them. Ed nods to Mark that the job is done.
The Assistant Attorney General, Pat Grey (Marton Csokas) enters the building, telling Mark how the seating at the funeral will be done. Mark replies that the funeral will be handled by the F.B.I. “in the F.B.I. way.” Mr. Grey is taken aback by this statement and then tells Mark that he has been instructed by the White House to gather all of Hoover’s personal files to which Mark replies “What Files?” The Assistant Attorney General wants the secret files of Hoover, to which Ed tells him there are no files.
We cut to Mark sitting in Hoover’s darkened office, soaking in the moment. We then see the memorial service that is in the rotunda of the Capital building. After the ceremony Bill Sullivan (Tom Sizemore), comes up to Mark. It’s evident that Mark doesn’t like Bill, and they share a history, one which Mark doesn’t care for. Bill, after 30 years in the F.B.I. was let go, but now is working for the White House. Bill tells Mark that he is finished, Mark won’t get Hoover’s job.
Mark, back at his office, gets a phone call from the Attorney General. Carol listens in, thinking Mark is about to be offered the Hoover’s job, but it’s evident from her body language that Mark did not get the job that he dearly wanted. Not getting Hoover’s job will set Mark on a path that will bring down the President and shock a nation.
Writer/director Peter Landesman brings us a tale of secret policies, double tricks, payoffs and backdoor politics that ultimately cost President Nixon his job in 1973 and put people in jail. Ever since the book/movie All the President’s Men, people have been wondering and guessing just who was ‘Deep Throat,’ the person that fed damming information to the Washington Post correspondents Woodward and Bernstein. It wasn’t until 2005 that Vanity Fair figured out that the information leak was Mark Felt. The movie is based on the 2006 book A G-Man’s Life that Felt wrote.
The film wants to make Mark Felt a hero, but the problem is that he was Hoover’s right-hand man after many years working under a man who kept secret files on every politician, digging up dirt on each one of them, using those secrets to remain in power until he died. We never really know why Felt gave the Washington Post the information to bring down a presidency. Was it revenge for not giving him the top job and replacing Hoover with a pro-Nixon supporter or was it truly because he wanted to take down a corrupt administration, Felt comes across on the screen as a man who feels that the F.B.I. is the last bastion in the country to keep America together in those turbulent years of the Vietnam War? The film never creates the tension that is needed for this genre; it tries to with all the back door politics, but the tension never builds as the story plods along, lacking a sense of urgency.
Liam Neeson does his best to make Mark Felt compelling, and try as hard as he does, he is let down by the script. The best scenes of Neeson’s in this film are when Felt is confronted head-on. The scene where Felt slowly lets John Dean know that they can’t do anything about Hoover because he has dirt on all of them is compelling and well done. I just wish there were more scenes like that in the film. The supporting cast is a fantastic group of actors. Diane Lane is terrific as Mark Felt’s wife, a woman who has nobly supported her husband for thirty years but worries that his devotion to Hoover and the F.B.I. will bring him down. Tony Goldwyn does an admirable job as Felt’s friend and number two. Wendi McLendon-Covey isn’t given much to do as Felt’s secretary, though I did like her scene when Felt is informed he didn’t get Hoover’s job. Tom Sizemore is perfect in the role of Bill Sullivan, a sleazy ex-F.B.I. agent who would like nothing more than seeing Felt go down. The supporting cast also includes some excellent actors who only have one or two scenes, including Kate Walsh, Bruce Greenwood, Noah Wyle and Michael C. Hall as John Dean.
Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House never entirely lives up to the actual events of Watergate, giving us a film that just can’t find its footing. It’s hard to do a movie on this subject matter because one of the greatest films of all time already covers it, the 1976 Oscar winner All the President’s Men. I don’t think Mark Felt will be seeing any Oscar love next year. My Rating: Bargain Matinee
My movie rating system from Best to Worst: 1). I Would Pay to See it Again 2). Full Price 3). Bargain Matinee 4). Cable 5). You Would Have to Pay Me to See it Again
The film is playing in Atlanta exclusively at Landmark Midtown Art Cinema
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