Mark Felt had a very particular set of skills.

Movies

Dutiful ‘Deep Throat’ Biopic Needs More Investigation

This portrayal of Watergate whistleblower Mark Felt adds a layer of contemporary relevance to the events surrounding the scandal, but doesn't fill in some gaps.

When the most natural comparison is a classic like All the President’s Men, almost any movie is bound to feel inferior.

That’s true of Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House, a straightforward biopic that adds a layer of contemporary relevance and a slightly fresh perspective to the events surrounding the Watergate scandal.

Yet considering it’s been more than four decades since the most notorious political scandal in our country’s history, at least so far, you’d expect this portrait of the infamous whistleblower nicknamed “Deep Throat” to contain more insight and suspense — and to fill in more gaps.

The film begins in 1972 with the death of longtime FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover, which leads his highly respected deputy, Felt (Liam Neeson), to assume he’d be promoted to the role, having developed a stellar reputation with a belief in the bureau’s independence from the White House.

When the Nixon administration instead chooses outsider Pat Gray (Marton Csokas) for the top post, the unassuming Felt becomes disgruntled but agrees to remain. Then the Watergate scandal breaks, leading to cover-ups and backdoor deals between Gray and corrupt Nixon officials trying to scuttle the resulting investigation.

When classified information starts leaking to the press, most notably the Washington Post, almost every agent at the FBI becomes a target except Felt — the most obvious suspect but also the last person you’d suspect, with his loyal patriotism and quiet determination to maintain the dignity of his office.

Timely parallels abound in the screenplay by director Peter Landesman (Concussion), which opens with a sequence involving the White House discussing the consequences of firing Hoover. The story, of course, also chronicles accusations of election tampering, government leaks, cries about obstruction of justice, and an administration embroiled in constant turmoil.

Neeson is solid, as always, even if the film’s portrayal of Felt borders on left-wing hero worship. Landesman provides some intriguing biographical tidbits but seems content to scratch the surface with regard to the motives and moral complexity behind Felt’s decision to go rogue, and the turmoil in his personal life, especially his volatile relationships with his wife (Diane Lane) and disenfranchised daughter.

Given that it depicts events long before the dawn of social media and 24-hour news cycles, the film offers a valuable history lesson. However, just like in 1974, a deeper investigation is still warranted.

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