Movie Review: ‘MARK FELT’ – Deep Throat: Origins

0

Courtney Howard // Film Critic

MARK FELT: THE MAN WHO BROUGHT DOWN THE WHITE HOUSE

Rated PG-13, 1 hr. 43 min.
Directed by: Peter Landesman
Starring:  Liam NeesonDiane LaneMarton Csokas, Tony Goldwyn, Ike Barinholtz, Josh Lucas, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Kate Walsh, Brian d’Arcy James, Maika Monroe, Michael C. Hall, Tom Sizemore, Bruce Greenwood

Writer-Director Peter Landesman’s MARK FELT: THE MAN WHO BROUGHT DOWN THE WHITE HOUSE, a restaging of the events behind the Watergate scandal and the titular man who brought down the president, is akin to a History channel TV movie on a slick studio budget. It has all your favorite talents – only it doesn’t allow most of them room to shine. Packing it to the gills with character actors may give it a modicum of gravitas, but it doesn’t do anything to buoy Landesman’s poorly-executed script which sinks like lead – one adapted from Felt’s far more fascinating books written with John O’Connor.

Dedicated, hard-working Mark Felt (Liam Neeson) is highly respected, skilled and connected as the FBI’s second in command. However, things drastically change once he’s passed over for the main gig. Not only is he feeling disgruntled, struggling with his morals and principles, he’s also butting heads with new boss Gray (Marton Csokas). Things really head south once information comes to light about President Nixon’s potential ties to the break-in at the Watergate hotel – info Gray wants Felt to shove under the carpet. Felt’s not having any of that, so he goes to the press as the anonymous source “Deep Throat.” If that’s not enough work anxiety, his long-suffering wife Audrey (played by the permanently incandescent Diane Lane) is falling apart as their rebellious hippy daughter Joan (Maika Monroe) is missing.

They say history repeats itself, and this film shouts that slogan. Landesman practically shoves the modern day resonance down our (deep) throats. It’s so pervasive it becomes bothersome, halting us from connecting to its takeaway message. While there are two electric sequences where Neeson engages in some hefty verbal fireworks to remind you why he got the job, the remainder is a snooze. Landesman is obliged to recreate Woodward’s now-legendary meeting in the parking garage, but given how historic the moment is, he doesn’t make it as big as it deserved to be. Needless to say, it’s not even on the level of ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN. Worse, it overstates things with dialogue – things we can clearly see.

Liam Neeson is MARK FELT: THE MAN WHO BROUGHT DOWN THE WHITE HOUSE. Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

We never get to the heart of any of these characters. Landesman tries to emphasize intimacy, and echo Felt’s inner spiraling (which you’ve really got to extrapolate), by going handheld a few times. It doesn’t work. It just becomes unnecessary shaky cam. What drives Felt to feel these emotions? What makes him tick? Why will he bend the rules for one thing (snitching to the press) and not another (using government resources to look for his daughter) when clearly it’s all going to Hell in a handbasket? His friends and co-workers (Tony Goldwyn, Ike Barinholtz, Josh Lucas, and Brian d’Arcy James) have confusing storylines not worth tracking. Why bother when the filmmakers themselves didn’t put in the effort? Wendi McLendon-Covey, playing Felt’s secretary, and Kate Walsh, playing a wife of a Felt’s friend, are vestigial at best. Felt’s main antagonist (Tom Sizemore) barely manages to kick up any grit or threat. All these supporting roles are maddeningly less than one dimensional.

An excessive (to the point of questionable) amount of close –up cutaways of men’s hands tapping and rapping proliferate this picture. A pen! A paintbrush! Hands themselves! Is it visual commentary that misdeeds happen in the idle hands of men? Maybe. More than likely, judging by how un-subtle the rest of the film is, it’s just bad coverage masquerading as deep, layered filmmaking.

MARK FELT is unforgettable for three reasons: how it wastes 85% of its cast, the clumsy film school 101 mistakes, and my colleague’s commentary track (like whispering “Ma-maaah!” at Barinholz’s intro and “That’s not Robert Redford” at the parking garage scene). I realize that not everyone has their own Fred, so the picture’s memorable qualities will vary. You’ll walk away still not really knowing who this man was.

Grade: D+

MARK FELT: THE MAN WHO BROUGHT DOWN THE WHITE HOUSE is now playing in New York and Los Angeles. It will have a slow roll out nationwide.

About author

Courtney Howard

Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.

Comments