PHILADELPHIA (CBS)– What an unwieldy title for a wieldy but wearisome docudrama.
Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House tells its story without much muss or fuss.
The main obstacle it must overcome – and it really never does – is the inevitable comparison otherwise appreciative viewers will make with the classic, Oscar-winning 1976 film with which it shares much of its subject matter.
That’s All the President’s Men, a far superior companion piece to what could easily have been titled All the FBI’s Men.
Our expectations – that we will get a chance to see the events of All the President’s Men from a different point-of-view — are met on the surface, but they don’t substantially pay off.
Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House is the dry, informative story of the FBI Associate Director who, under the label, “Deep Throat,” helped Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein uncover the Watergate scandal in 1974 that lead to the resignation of President Richard Nixon.
At the time, the nation’s citizens became obsessed with the identity of perhaps the most famous anonymous source in journalistic history.
Biopic-specializing writer-director Peter Landesman (Parkland, Concussion) based his script for this biographical spy thriller on the 2006 autobiography of Felt by Felt and John D. O’Connor, chronicling events from FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover’s death through Nixon’s resignation.
The ensemble cast includes Liam Neeson as Felt, Hoover’s assistant and right-hand man, with Diane Lane as his wife and Maika Monroe as his daughter; Tony Goldwyn as FBI Intel Chief Ed Miller, with Kate Walsh as his wife; Josh Lucas as FBI agent Charlie Bates; Michael C. Hall as lawyer John Dean; and Martin Csokas and Tom Sizemore as Felt’s rival FBI agents.
Neeson plays Felt as nobly burdened with the ironic need to turn informant and betray his beloved Bureau. It’s easy to see that approach as a self-serving reading of the role, although Neeson is nonetheless his commanding and watchable presence.
But the film picks up only a minimal head of steam as it approaches its climax, and barely touches on Felt’s basic motivations and resentments.
The screenplay, which does a bit too much self-conscious speechifying, takes pains to remind us that the White House has no authority over the FBI, a key plot point that – as you can imagine – resonates strongly for today’s audiences. To say nothing of the leaking phenomenon and controversy.
But for a supposedly principled public servant, Felt broke his share of laws and exhibited his share of hypocrisy.
Yet, we don’t come away from this character study of sorts feeling that we’ve gotten to know the protagonist terribly well.
Still, we’ll blow the whistle on 2-1/2 stars out of 4. Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House won’t bring down the house. And it may not be deeply, um, felt. But at least it sends you home wondering whom today’s Mark Felt might be.