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Digging deeper into Watergate

Liam Neeson plays 'Deep Throat' role with gravitas in film that revisits scandal that brought down Richard Nixon

23 March, 2018 — By Dan Carrier

Liam Neeson as Mark Felt

MARK FELT: THE MAN WHO BROUGHT DOWN THE WHITE HOUSE
Directed by Pete Landesman
Certificate 12a
☆☆☆

THERE is more to this film than being a decent spooks and politicos thriller based on a story that shook the world.

Felt was Deep Throat, the insider whose tips to Washington Post reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward helped nail Richard Nixon’s guilt over Watergate. And while we have had Watergate already told (none better than the 1976 All The President’s Men), the idea that Felt’s tale is now ripe for screen time – more than 10 years since he revealed his identity – does not feel like a coincidence. It fits in with other recently released films, including The Post, which told the story of the Pentagon Papers and whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg from the point of view of the newspaper’s management and owners.

Could the film industry be more blatant in its appeals to those who are checks on power – the media, the civil services, the government agencies – that we live in a period of extraordinary danger and it is their patriotic duty to make sure Donald Trump’s administration is held to account?

Mark Felt (Liam Neeson) was J Edgar Hoover’s number two, known as “the G-Man’s G-Man”, a lifelong agent dedicated to his service.

We meet Felt as Hoover dies. It sets the collywobbles going at the highest echelons of government as they know he had private files packed full of dirt – and the White House sees this as a good opportunity for a clean sweep of the Bureau. It spells bad news for Felt, who should have been a shoo-in for the role as director.

His wife Audrey (Diane Lane) soothes his disappointment by pointing out how unfair it is he has been passed up for the top job – just as Felt learns that corruption goes all the way to the Oval Office and is compelled to act.

Landesman’s film is meticulously researched, and Neeson fills the role with a sense of gravitas. This is smooth storytelling with a sense of tension in the air – no mean trick when we basically know the outcome. It is helped by the wonderful score by London composer Daniel Pemberton.

But swooping shots of Washington buildings, the pressed suits of the leads, the dark shade-wearing extras looking to and fro with frowns on their faces feel a little too obvious.

Landesman seeks to give us an angle on why Felt did it, what made him act, and Felt’s motivations are ambiguous. He is seen as a patriot who knows something is rotten in the state and has the means to expose this. But he also feels the disappointment at how his life’s work has been cut away from him. Hell hath no fury like a G-Man scorned. We can but hope the current president’s regular government shake-ups prompt some disgruntled insider to expose the murkier machinations of modern government.

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