Mark Felt The Man Who Brought Down The White House review: Liam Neeson plays the ultimate whistleblower in this inside story of the Watergate scandal.  

Mark Felt The Man Who Brought Down The White House review by Freda Cooper.

Mark Felt The Man Who Brought Down The White House review
Mark Felt The Man Who Brought Down The White House review

You may not know the name Mark Felt, let alone his part in events that brought down an American president.  But Deep Throat is probably far more familiar – and the two are one and the same.  The sad thing about Peter Landesman’s serious and worthy account of Felt’s most significant time at the FBI isn’t that it covers the least known aspect of the Watergate scandal (for us Brits, anyway) but that it’s probably going to be the least known film on the subject.  It looks destined to slip into cinemas – and slip out again.

Felt (Liam Neeson) was number two at the FBI, its loyal servant for the best part of 30 years and expected to get the top job.  But when the legendary J Edgar Hoover died, the Nixon appointed L Patrick Gray (Marton Csokas) to sit at the big desk.  That, in itself, was bad enough, but Felt was also enraged at the idea of government interference in the FBI which, as far as he was concerned, answered to nobody.  The final straw came just before the presidential election of 1972 with the Watergate break-in, and the FBI being ordered to complete its investigations in just two days.  And he became one of most famous whistleblowers in history.

Mark Felt The Man Who Brought Down The White House review
Mark Felt The Man Who Brought Down The White House review

Despite the true story behind it, Mark Felt (to shorten its cumbersome title) simply doesn’t live up to expectations.  The Watergate saga has held a fascination for years and spawned films like All The President’s Men and, more recently, The Post.  But while those two make partner pieces, this one is little more than a footnote. Yet you never escape the feeling that a really engrossing film is desperately trying to get out – and occasional hints in that direction just make the impression even stronger.

After starting the year with the mindless, it’s a relief to see Neeson revert to some serious acting.  He’s ramrod straight in the role, sporting a grey wig and, in the main, the character is much the same colour.  Despite his efforts, the part is underwritten to the extent that Landesman, who also wrote the script, has to draw heavily on the story of Felt and his estranged daughter to give the man a semblance of humanity and emotion.

Related: The Post review

This isn’t the only under-developed character. Diane Lane, who plays his wife, reputedly had her scenes cut significantly because of time constraints. And it shows. She’s good, she could have been outstanding, but we’re left longing to see more of her and her relationship with her husband.  Felt is surrounded by a number of suits, all of whom turn in decent enough performances with what they’re given.  Michael C. Hall is attorney general John Dean, with a voice pointing towards him channelling an inner Philip Seymour Hoffman, but falling short.  And, in living up to L Patrick Gray’s surname, Marton Csokas is all on one note.  The film’s problems land at Landesman’s feet.  His script is heavy going, with some deeply unconvincing dialogue and his direction follows suit, making it so ponderous that it sags.

Mark Felt The Man Who Brought Down The White House review
Mark Felt The Man Who Brought Down The White House review

Those dips will find you wondering why the film is aimed at cinemas.  It would have made a good, even excellent, mini-series, exploring the complexities of the story in more depth and allowing the characters to be fully developed.  With so many actors in the cast who are familiar with their television roles, it almost feels like a TV movie thrust uncomfortably onto the big screen.  It’s a film with potential which is all but wasted by its execution.

Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down The White House review by Freda Cooper, March 2018.

Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down The White House is released in the UK on Friday, 23 March.