Many years ago, when he was first working on bringing the story of Abraham Lincoln to the screen, the word was that director Steven Spielberg’s first choice to play our 16th President was Liam Neeson. When I heard that I was curious if Neeson, a very fine actor, had the necessary gravitas to play the Great Emancipator. Based on his performance in “Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House,” I think he would have been well cast.
April 1972. With the upcoming US Presidential election coming up in November, the FBI’s Deputy Director, Mark Felt (Neeson) is summoned to the White House. There he meets with John Dean (Michael C. Hall), President Nixon’s White House Counsel, and Attorney General John Mitchell (Stephen Michael Ayers). The conversation turns to the possibility of the President “encouraging” the current FBI director, J. Edgar Hoover, to resign. What are Felt’s thoughts? Felt keeps his thoughts to himself, though he is quick to remind the men that the director has amassed his own set of secret files. A month later, Hoover dies. Felt does what he thinks is best so that, when the White House sends a courier to pick up Hoover’s files his answer is “What files?”
So begins the story that ushered in one of the most embarrassing political episodes in America’s history. One hand not only knows what the other hand is doing, it’s not even sure of its own fingers! As the election gets closer, things get crazier in the bureau. In what is obviously a vote of non-support, instead of promoting Felt to the top job, Nixon appoints L. Patrick Gray (Martin Csokas, who could pass quite easily for Russell Crowe’s younger brother) as “acting” director until a permanent successor for Hoover is found. This makes Felt take a long look at his life, and the bureau, and his displeasure with both. But things begin to go downhill for everyone concerned when a break-in is reported at a Washington D.C. area hotel known as the Watergate.
A nice look at the inner workings of government, the film is based on Felt’s book of the same name. Instead of F.B.I. the name of the game is C.Y.A. with an unlimited number of people on the sidelines ready to pounce on the slightest mistake. Unhappy with Nixon’s interference in the bureau’s investigation of Watergate, Felt begins speaking to Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward (Julian Morris). Unwilling to go on the record Felt gives himself the name “Deep Throat,” hiding in the shadows as the government he loves unravels. Led by Neeson’s performance, the film features great work from everyone involved, including Lane, Sizemore, Noah Wylie and Bruce Greenwood. The film is well paced and, even if you’re familiar with the story, holds enough surprises to keep your attention and helps begin the upcoming film awards season.