Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House
When the team behind ‘Mark Felt: The Full Title Is Way Too Long’ starting working on this bio-pic, it must have felt like a forgotten political period piece that they weren’t quite sure viewers could relate to. Suddenly, the tale of an FBI lifer going against the White House to protect the nation couldn’t feel more contemporary or vital. Weird how that happens, huh?
You might not necessarily know the name Mark Felt, but he was one of the most important FBI figures of the 20th Century and you probably know his pseudonym. Felt (presented here in Liam Neeson form) was one of J. Edgar Hoover’s top men and insiders. We meet him in the film on the day Hoover dies and see him passed over for the job of running the FBI. Nixon was President and he needed people he could control. Why becomes clear when the Watergate scandal breaks and Felt sees himself and his organization restrained during the investigation. He knows something is foul and that he can’t trust those around him, so he bravely leaks information to the press hoping they can uncover the scandal that the FBI can’t. He earns the nickname “Deep Throat” in the process and you likely know the rest of the story.
The first half of director Peter Landesman’s film plays as a tense and sweaty political thriller. Although it’s muted to the point of dullness at times, Neeson’s growling performance and posture keep the tension high almost single-handedly. The character actors around him, including Michael C. Hall, Brian d’Arcy James and an amusingly sleazy Tom Sizemore are game to keep the psychological warfare pumping. It’s pretty fascinating stuff, meticulously researched and executed with just the right amount of shadowy suspense to sell the story.
Unfortunately, in the name of squeezing empathy out of audiences for a cold and calculated protagonist, too much time is wasted on Felt’s family life. (A subplot about Felt tracking down a hippie daughter who dropped out of society really drags the back half down for the sake of melodrama.) It makes the movie a little uneven and overlong, but at least Landesman’s focus is primarily on the politics and paranoid thrills. That stuff works, providing a new perspective on an oft told story and giving Neeson a chance to flex his aging badass muscles without a leather jacket or generic eastern European villain in site. It also doesn’t hurt that the time is right for a movie about a rogue FBI honcho willing to take down an out-of-control President. If the film somehow inspires history to repeat itself, then those flaws and dull patches sure will be easier to ignore.