Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House
Starring Liam Neeson, Diane Lane, Marton Csokas, Tony Goldwyn, Josh Lucas, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Kate Walsh, Michael C. Hall, Bruce Greenwood, Noah Wyle,
It’s not Peter Landesman’s first political drama, his failed Parkland remains a sting on his filmography, but he rebounded with the forgotten gem Kill the Messenger the following year. With Mark Felt, Landesman highlights the similarities between the Felt/Nixon and Mueller/Trump era. This, all talk and barely any suspense, drama has scene after scene of action star Neeson talking sternly and forcefully to members of the FBI as smoke suffices for atmosphere in the 70’s time-frame. It’s great to see Neeson inhabit a character again, versus just playing some hero who shoots people. The ensemble cast, while impressive in length, are barely memorable pieces of a complicated puzzle that requires the audience’s full attention.
Following the death of FBI leader J. Edgar Hoover, deputy director Mark Felt (Neeson) quickly puts into motion their emergency plan to avoid any of the secret documents from being taken over by The White House. 178 days before the election where Nixon will be running for a second term, Felt explains to incoming director L. Patrick Gray (Csokas), “As long as you keep the FBI first, you can count on me”. It becomes very clear in the days following Watergate, that Nixon’s administration has eyes and ears in both American institutions, using Gray as a puppet. The only thing worse to Nixon than keeping Felt in the FBI, is firing him, for fear of what he knows and who he might tell.
Landesman isn’t an experienced or creative enough director to make mundane, dialogue heavy scenes feel special or even thrilling, which will cause many viewers to disengage.
What works here is Neeson’s performance, the hair, the suits, the demeanor, he is in rare form and it’s worth celebrating the iconic actor doing some real acting for a change. What doesn’t work is Lane’s performance, which was mostly left on the cutting room floor, Landesman admits, due to running time constraints. What’s left is an uneven performance by the Oscar nominated actress. The subplot of the film deals with Felt and his missing daughter, which is out of place for a project dubbed “The Deep Throat Movie”. Nixon is only seen in stock footage, but continues to be the most cinematically adapted President in history.
Mark Felt could be likened to Robert DeNiro’s The Good Shepherd, a far more comprehensive and moody thriller about the CIA, or best picture winner Spotlight, for its investigation presentation. For history buffs, or those interested in dramatized history, this film should play well, highlighting a different angle not seen in other Watergate/Nixon films. The film isn’t very cinematic, talking almost entirely indoors. We watch Neeson have a conversation in one room only to exit and proceed to another room and have another conversation. Landesman isn’t an experienced or creative enough director to make mundane, dialogue heavy scenes feel special or even thrilling, which will cause many viewers to disengage.
Neeson’s performance is a return to real acting for the action star but the film as a whole lacks creativity and cinematic expression.