Liam Neeson Diane Lane Marton Csokas Josh Lucas Michael C. Hall
Bruce Greenwood Tony Goldwyn Tom Sizemore Julian Morris
FBI agent Mark Felt was profoundly disturbed by his knowledge of the White House’s involvement in the 1972 break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate Hotel in Washington, and felt impelled by his conscience to do something about it anonymously. He had been an agent for 30 years, and was completely devoted to its principles and solicitous of its integrity. When J. Edgar Hoover died unexpectedly, there was a shake-up in leadership, and because President Nixon and his staff wished to have more control over the agency, they chose to pass over Felt, the #2 man with a spotless reputation, and put in the director’s place L. Patrick Gray, who would be more of an ally to them.
This was a period of time when the FBI and the White House engaged in a number of clandestine activities such as bugging the offices of political rivals, activist groups, or just anyone it considered suspicious. One of Hoover’s agents, Bill Sullivan, was especially skilled in these nefarious activities, and when the White House realized he could be useful even after Hoover had already dismissed him, the White House appointed him head of its own intelligence office.
Soon after this film begins and Felt (Neeson) is passed over for the directorship in favor of Gray (Csokas), Sullivan (Sizemore) is appointed to the White House. Felt sees this as very bad news, knowing that it would compromise the independence of the FBI. In fact, the White House was successful in pressuring Gray to suspend the FBI’s investigation of White House involvement in the Watergate break-in. As he witnesses the increasing erosion of democratic government, Felt begins to use what power he has to expose what is happening through the media. He was able to keep his actions secret for 30 years.
With all the secret machinations and intrigue going on in so many areas of the government during the time, this story should keep you on the edge of your seat. It doesn’t. Moreover, the story is not well told in the sense that characters are introduced without any explanation as to why they are, so by the end it’s not clear who is who, how they got to be where they were, or any of the intense emotions they must have been experiencing. The only emotion in evidence is in a side story inappropriately inserted about Mark Felt’s missing daughter.
Neeson and the other main characters—Marton Csokas, Josh Lucas, Tom Sizemore—play their roles well; it is the script that lets them down. Another example is Diane Lane, a fine actress who plays Felt’s wife. We see brief glimpses of her and can tell she is very unhappy, but little about their marriage and family is elucidated, except, of course, about the daughter, which is still sketchy and seems only an excuse for the filmmakers to introduce some affect into a rather plodding script.
Director Peter Landesman adapted the screenplay from Mark Felt’s book, which I have not read, but wonder if it is as dry as the film. I wish I had come away from it with a good understanding of what happened, relate it to present-day events, and feel inspired by Mark Felt’s adherence to principles at not inconsiderable cost to himself.
This film will not give you a clear picture of the events surrounding the Watergate scandal.
Grade: D By Donna R. Copeland