If there’s anywhere that All the President’s Men is part of required viewing, it’s in the Washington DC area. We from the region are so used to politics being a part of our every day life, it takes serious scandal to get anyone to raise an eyebrow. Depending on age, the attack on the Pentagon, Marion Barry’s drug scandal, The Mayflower Madam’s exposure of politicians and men in power and their sexual proclivities, Watergate and how The Washington Post exposed the machinations involved, Martin Luther King’s March, the riots, and Kennedy’s funeral are all events uniquely felt and experienced in and around the nation’s capital.
The new, reality-based film, Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House takes place a little before my time, and that’s true for a lot of area residents. However, his part in the Watergate scandal and the subsequent resignation of President Nixon are as meaningful now as the days in which they were taking place. Mark Felt was Deep Throat, the whistleblower who exposed the corruption arguably eating at the fabric of this country from the interior of the White House out. Mark Felt was the #2 man inside the FBI at the time. As an anonymous source, he helped Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein learn how high up the corruption went, and changed the trajectory of American politics.
From the beginning of the film, regardless of the viewers’ ages or their memory of these events long-past, thoughts of the current presidency and all the allegations of corruption, especially as it relates to the latest election, come to mind. We can’t help but wonder, if this were the 1970s, whether the current administration would still be blithely moving forward. Conversely, if the social network existed in that time, would anyone taken allegations of misconduct seriously, or would it have gotten lost in all the noise? Would Woodward and Bernstein have even had the budget or leeway to follow the leads to Deep Throat, Mark Felt, and gotten the story that “brought down the White House”?
Liam Neeson stars as the FBI agent, and he does so with all the restraint and understated grace that Felt himself exuded. Diane Lane plays Audrey Felt, who certainly led a troubled experience supporting her husband through his career. In addition to the secret Mark Felt kept for 30 years about being Deep Throat, he also kept the secret that his wife’s death in 1984 was not a heart attack, but suicide, from even his own children. Neither this aspect of their life, nor a number of aspects of their experience together, or Felt’s struggle as a whistleblower are examined, to the great detriment of the film.
Lane plays Audrey Felt as wire-tight, and she brings a welcome intensity to all her scenes. Neeson’s reigned-in emotional turmoil creates sympathy with the audience. With all that, their performances and those of the strong supporting cast are still not enough to make this film particularly memorable, beyond enlightening viewers about the basic story of the why’s and how’s of Deep Throat. It’s a missed opportunity. In my research for this review, I found out so many interesting things about Felt, and his part in this important moment in modern US history, that were not included in the film.
There was so much genuine intrigue around the events on which this movie is based. Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House only scratches the surface. On the other hand, it is a strong reminder of how one man’s integrity and a public that demands decency and honesty from its leaders can alter world events. Given the current political environment, that’s important information.