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Mario Bautista, has been with the entertainment industry for more than 4 decades. He writes regular columns for People's Journal and Malaya.

Sep 30, 2017

Mark Felt Movie Review: Liam Neeson In A Non-Action Film About One Of The Greatest Whistleblowers In History

‘MARK FELT, THE MAN WHO BROUGHT DOWN THE WHITE HOUSE’, is based on the true story of Deep Throat, the mole considered as one of the greatest whistleblowers in history who leaked information to the press that led to the infamous Watergate Scandal, where the Democratic headquarters was bugged, and eventually caused the resignation of Richard Nixon as U.S. president. He was subsequently immortalized in the acclaimed 1976 film, “All the President’s Men”, but his real identity was never revealed, until 2005, when his full story was told exclusively in Vanity Fair. He died 3 years later at the age of 95.

Serious film aficionados would probably enjoy this film more than those who just go for escapist entertainment who’d probably prefer its lead star, Liam Neeson, more for his action roles in the “Taken” franchise than for portraying the role of “Mark Felt’. Someone behind us was complaining to his seatmate: “Akala ko ba, action ito? Daldalan pala!”

Felt is a grizzled 30-year old veteran in the FBI in the last year of Nixon’s first term in the white house. He’s a good friend of then FBI head, J. Edgar Hoover (who had his own filmbio starring Leonardo DiCaprio), and some Nixon cohorts want him to betray Hoover so they can fire him. But Felt explains Hoover’s much ballyhooed “private files”, saying that when an official who is “seen with a woman not his wife, or a man not his wife”, this is reported in writing and all these memos go to Felt on their way to the files of Hoover. He tells his interrogators: “All your secrets are safe with us.”

Felt is obviously a man of integrity who believes that the FBI is the most respected institution in the world and the best way to lose its credibility and independence is for the government to try to control it. This happened when Hoover died in 1972 and instead of promoting the more deserving Felt as its new director, Nixon chooses L. Patrick Gray (Martin Csokas), an outsider who has no experience in law enforcement but someone the government can control and manipulate.

It will take more than a year before the press and the rest of the country get to put things together to figure out what the Watergate break-in means and how high it goes up in their corrupt government. When the Watergate break-in occurs, Gray orders Felt to iron things out in 48 hours, making Felt disgusted so he keeps investigating until he ferrets out the truth.

Felt was able to connect the dots quickly when he learned that the burglars are all former CIA and FBI operatives, some of whom are connected to the committee that aims to re-elect Nixon to the presidency. He then detects that it’s actually just the tip of the iceberg concerning the dirty tricks that the Nixon administration has been conducting for several years.

In “All the President’s Men”, the highlight is his communication with Bob Woodward of The Washington Post, played in the movie by Robert Redford. But since that has already been shown in that past film, here, the more attention-getting interview is the one he had in a diner with Sandy Smith (Bruce Greenwood), a Time Magazine reporter who’s also covering the Watergate affair. The talks with Woodward are mostly done on a phone booth beside a laundromat.

To show that the film is not mere adulatory hagiography, writer-director Peter Landesman (“Concussion”) shows Felt’s efforts to crack down the militant group of activists called the Weather Underground which unnerves the White House. After he retired, Felt was sued for violating the Constitution because of his pursuits of the activists, but the late Ronald Reagan later pardoned him.
The film also shows Felt’s miserable personal life. Diane Lane plays his wife, an alcoholic who’s apparently unhappy because Felt devoted more time to his career. He has a daughter, Joan (Maika Monroe), who runs away and joins a hippie commune.

Liam Neeson dominates the film and gives a commanding title role portrayal of Felt. Among the men working for him, it is Josh Lucas who stands out as Charlie Bates, who obviously knew that it was Felt who is the source of the leaks to the press. But the film itself fails to equal the very high standard sets by “All the President’s Men”, which remains to be one of the best American films made but, ironically, didn’t win best picture then but was eclipsed by the underdog story of “Rocky”.

The film is interesting to watch, but after 40 years, it feels more like just footnote in history now. In contrast, “All the President’s Men” offers more authenticity in showing us how reporters think and operate. The film “Spotlight” also did this, but in a lesser way and, again ironically, it won Oscar best picture but “All the President’s Men”, definitely the better film, did not. But the film can now be seen in the context of the Trumph administration and its own share of scandals. So who will dare to be the Mark Felt of the new millennium?