Review: Liam Neeson Takes On Nixon In 'Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down The White House'

Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down The White House couldn't be more timely. The infamous Watergate break-in is in the news now more than ever, thanks to the current President's multitude of scandals and attempted cover-ups. With every political pundit comparing those scandals to Watergate (or just adding "gate" to the end as an overused homage), the question becomes whether someone like Felt, who in 2005 revealed himself to be the FBI leaker Deep Throat, could exist in today's social media-driven, politically-polarized world. Felt is considered the ultimate whistleblower by some, and hated as a traitor by others.

Writer/director Peter Landesman attempts to get at the core of Felt's decision to reveal secrets about the Watergate scandal to the press. Was he a man driven by patriotism, or self-preservation?  It's a fascinating perspective because we've never actually seen it before. The gold standard of Watergate movies will always be All the President's Men, but Hollywood has only ever depicted it from the angle of journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. And they are always seen as driven, muck-raking reporters with a nose for sniffing out the truth. The reality, or at least the one depicted here, puts Felt in control, dishing out information to a number of different outlets in order to control the messaging. Felt is no mere source with a funny porn star nickname; he's the puppet master holding the strings.

As played by Liam Neeson, Felt is a stately man who lives by a certain code, not unlike many of the action hero characters Neeson has played in the past. A company man who was Hoover's #2 in the FBI for decades, Felt protected the agency's secrets fiercely, especially from Nixon's meddling White House. When Hoover suddenly passed away, Felt had shredders at the ready, disposing of incriminating documents before Nixon's people could even come knocking at the door. That's the kind of guy he was. Protect the FBI at all costs. So what could make him betray those ideals?

Landesman, a former journalist whose impeccable research led to the JFK assassination drama Parkland and the NFL film Concussion, digs into the details of Felt's personal and professional life. We see his troubles at home with his fragile wife (Diane Lane), and their search to find their possibly Weather Underground-connected daughter (Maika Monroe). We see that felt is willing to bend the rules if it will help him personally, but would he do that to the FBI, as well? Most importantly we get a sense of how lost and betrayed he was when Nixon appointed L. Pat Gray (Marton Csokas), a loyal supporter, to replace Hoover. Landesman's taste is for stories of those who oppose a monolithic system, and it's clear he has some level of reverence for Felt.

The film succeeds when documenting the constant power struggle between the FBI and the White House, with Felt in the middle trying to keep the agency's independence as Nixon interferes in the Watergate investigation. These sections take on the feel of a tight, intense political thriller. Where it falters is in the thin portrayal of his home life, and the toll his job was taking on his marriage. The whole storyline involving his wayward daughter may have meant a lot to Felt in reality, but in the film it never amounts to much, and adds nothing to his motivations regarding Watergate.

Those expecting the film to jibe perfectly with other Hollywood portrayals may come away disappointed, but that's only because they've only ever known one side of the story. With Felt's revelation still so fresh, we are only just now seeing how everything unfolded from his conflicted point of view, and of course it would be different from the journalists he made contact with. That's what makes Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down The White House absorbing, and at least for now the definitive take on Deep Throat.

Rating: 3 out of 5