For a film about such a polarizing and important figure of 20th-century politics, Mark Felt, the man behind the infamous name Deep Throat, expectations are obviously high for Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down The White House. Unfortunately, peeking behind the curtain dispels much of the mystery and suspense often builds like a balloon slowly losing air even as Liam Neeson delivers one of his best performances. The Blu-ray from Sony Pictures is a first-rate effort with a stellar picture and audio presentation with a host of bonus features to dig through. The movie may not be as great as it should have been, but this release is certainly worth a look.
"This is hard for you."
"The truth. The truth is hard for you."
For thirty years, conspiracy theorists, political junkies, and every other American could only guess at the true identity of Deep Throat, the informant who helped Bob Woodward and the Washington Post bring down Richard Nixon. As time went on and the theories would swirl about, there was a growing assumption that America would never know the real name of the person who destroyed the legacy of the 37th President of the United State of America. That all changed in 2005 when retired former Associate Director of the FBI under Hoover, Mark Felt revealed to the world that he was the enigmatic Deep Throat. Considering the ramifications of that big reveal, a film about Mr. Felt was inevitable. Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down The White House is an interesting look at the man behind Deep Throat, but not even a passionate performance from Liam Neeson can save this film from feeling like a by-the-numbers biopic that lacks edge, mystery, or suspense.
Mark Felt (Liam Neeson) is a member of the old guard. He's been Hoover's number two man at the FBI for over thirty years. He commands the utmost respect and loyalty of his men -- in particular agents Ed Miller (Tony Goldwyn) and Charlie Bates (Josh Lucas). He has given everything to the FBI, estranging himself from his wife Audrey (Diane Lane) and he fears his daughter Joan (Maika Monroe) has joined an extremist group. When Hoover dies suddenly, Felt is passed over by Nixon as the next rightful steward of the FBI for Yes Man L. Patrick Gray (Marton Csokas). Soon after, a break-in at Democrat Headquarters at the Watergate Hotel demands FBI attention. But before Felt and his men can hardly start their investigation, the White House puts up roadblocks. To ensure justice is dispatched and maintain the integrity of the FBI, Felt begins to make contact with various friends in the press to keep the investigation going so the public can learn the truth.
Have you ever seen Alan J. Pakula's All The President's Men with Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman given tantalizing clues about the truth of the Watergate break-in by a shadowy Deep Throat played by Hal Holbrook? Remember how interesting, exciting, and even suspenseful it was to watch two zealous reporters put the pieces together and expose a conspiracy? If you've ever wondered what that all looked like from the perspective of Deep Throat's side of things, Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down The White House, tries its best to give you a peek into the life of that man and what drove him to become the world's most famous whistleblower. While Mark Felt is an interesting and complicated character, this film doesn't do the man or his story true justice.
Clocking in at an hour and forty minutes with credits, this movie is entirely too short to cover Felt being passed over for promotion after Hoover's death, his disgruntled home life, his absent daughter, the Watergate investigation, his contact with Bob Woodward and other reporters, and his actions into bringing down the Weather Underground for which he'd ultimately be disgraced. As the title wants to point out that Felt was responsible for bringing down Nixon, it frequently gets distracted and fails to focus. While some of the background stuff helps to put Felt into perspective as a meticulous man dedicated to his work, it doesn't always provide a convincing case for motive. Just why did Felt do what he did? Was it really to expose a great injustice? Or was it something petty like being passed over for promotion? Like the true Deep Throat; lots of questions with few answers.
As Neeson does his best to give Felt a persona and some character depth, the rest of the movie fails to support the effort. Part of the problem, unfortunately, falls on the truncated role of Diane Lane as Felt's wife Audrey. Just before the premiere of the film, it was revealed that a solid twenty minutes of footage of Lane was excised to curtail the runtime. As there are only sixteen minutes of deleted scenes in the bonus features, we're barely given a glimpse of what her character was intended to be. It's clear Lane was meant for better, some form of catharsis as Felt makes a decision, a piece of his home life puzzle comes together. Unfortunately, in the film's current form, Lane is frequently reduced to a snaky shrew hissing and spitting her words in between gimlet sips as they discuss the go-nowhere plot thread of their missing daughter.
By trying to show us everything about Felt in such a compressed amount of time, Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down The White House ultimately gives us very little. As a CliffsNotes of important moments in U.S. history, the film gives the audience a glimpse of the man behind the moniker Deep Throat, but we never really get to know him. It slapdashes around dramatic beats without weight and when it tries to build suspense it doesn't have the foundation or materials because every other character is at best given a cursory glance. We don't get to know Bruce Greenwood's Sandy Smith. We don't get to know Julian Morris' Bob Woodward. These men were central figures in the reporting of Watergate and we only know who they are simply because the movie frequently tells us again and again what newspaper they write for while side coughing "Deep Throat!" to remind us who Felt really was.
I wouldn't say that Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down The White House is a bad movie, it's just an unfortunately mediocre one. It's a movie that feels like if you're not already aware of a number of historical events, you'll be left in the cold. At the same time, if you know most of the happenings involving Woodward and the Post, the Weather Underground, and all sideline dealings with Nixon's own paranoia, you're not going to get anything new out of this film. Given the deleted material that is offered on this Blu-ray and the rumored cuts that didn't make the Bonus Features, I can't help but wonder that a better more cohesive film had once existed but was hacked and slashed to push more theatrical viewings with a shorter runtime. As it stands, Mark Felt is a well-acted film tailored perfectly for Neeson's persona but doesn't quite illuminate one of the most important and controversial figures of 20th-century American politics.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down The White House arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Sony Pictures. Pressed onto a Region A BD-50 disc, the disc is housed in a standard sturdy snapper Blu-ray case. No digital copy slip is included. The disc loads directly to an animated main menu with traditional navigation options.
Mark Felt arrives on Blu-ray with a solid 2.00:1 1080p transfer. Shot digitally, this is a very purposefully processed film that is attempting to evoke an era and mood through any combination of filters and color grading techniques. While there are moments where clarity isn't very strong and the image can appear even a bit blurry, in the context of the scene in question it makes sense. When Felt begins to have some measure of doubt or uncertainty, the image reflects this character trait. As such, this isn't the most eye-popping of transfers. Details tend to favor the close-up middle ranges. Colors also shift depending on the scene but the default is a steely blue push with occasional dips into yellow for the inner workings of the FBI offices. Through it all, Flesh tones remain even and healthy. The film looks its best with a great combination of color, contrast, and clarity towards the end of the film. While this is absolutely a purposeful-looking transfer, the combination of filters and color grading pops up some notable instances of noise, aliasing, and some contrast/black level issues. The scenes where Felt meets Woodward in the parking garage exhibit little shadow separation or depth making people and objects appear like flat black blobs in front of already pitch black shadows. These anomalies aren't terrible, they don't hit the score that hard, but one can't wonder if the added resolution and a gentle HDR push allotted for a 4K UHD release may have mitigated some of these trouble spots. Currently, there is no planned release of this film on 4K UHD Blu-ray.
Mark Felt comes packed with a simple but very effective DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio mix that handles the conversational thrust of the film perfectly. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout - especially when Liam gives his traditionally gavel yell of authority. Scoring by Daniel Pemberton is on point and does a terrific job of punching in those terrifically unsettling LFE tones to the mix. Sound effects are kinda by the numbers without a whole lot of surround activity. The busy FBI offices offer up some good surround moments and super quiet scenes where Felt meets up with Woodward provides a great sense of space and atmosphere. There's a scene about an hour and twenty minutes into the movie that offers up a terrific auditory moment where all of the sounds and voices and dialogue weave in and out and blur together as Felt grapples with the weight of his actions - it's a really impressive sonic moment in the film. All around this isn't the most dynamic mix ever, but it suits the film's needs.
Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down The White House comes packed with a decent assortment of extra features. As this wasn't exactly a big box office draw, it's nice to see that Sony had some good material in the can for this release. The Director commentary with Peter Landesman is a particularly great, articulate and informative listen and as I mentioned in the main review the included deleted scenes offer a glimpse at a more nuanced and potentially fulfilling film.
Audio Commentary featuring Director Peter Landesman.
Deleted/Extended Scenes (HD 16:19) Comprised of six deleted sequences and a couple of extensions, there is some great character building material that I really wish had been left in as it gave better context for some of Felt's motivations.
The Secrets of Making Mark Felt (HD 10:25) This is decent, if a little too EPK cast and crew interview/behind the scenes piece. It's unfortunately very brief. The Landesman commentary covers a lot of this material in much greater depth.
Trailer (HD 2:17)
As a bit of a Nixon-era political Junkie, I was really excited about Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down The White House. While I was never so obsessed as to generate a theory about the identity of the man behind the shadowy name "Deep Throat," I watched with rapt attention when the late Mr. Felt unmasked himself in 2005. What should have been the perfect companion piece to All The President's Men, Mark Felt, unfortunately, falls into the doldrums of being just another semi-decent but ultimately mediocre biopic. If you don't already know a lot about Mark Felt or the work of Woodward and Bernstein at the Post or Sandy Smith at Time and the events surrounding the Watergate break-in as well as the Weather Underground, this film does offer up some interesting cursory tidbits. However, if you're already up to speed on those topics, you're not likely to glean much in the way of new information or insight.
Sony Pictures has done a solid job bringing the film to Blu-ray with a strong A/V presentation and a decent selection of bonus features. While I may have wished for a better film, I'm not altogether disappointed with what's here. Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down The White House is absolutely worth a look.