(Release Info London schedule; March 23rd, 2018, Cineworld, Leicester Square)
"Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down The White House"
Based on a true story of the most famous anonymous man in American history; Mark Felt (Liam Neeson), the FBI second-in-command who was the 'Deep Throat' whistleblower in the 1970s 'Watergate' scandal. The identity of the secret informant remained a source of intense public curiosity and speculation for over thirty years, until Felt revealed himself through an article in 'Vanity Fair' in 2005. While his name has been public for a decade, few know about the personal and professional life of the brilliant and uncompromising Felt, who risked and ultimately sacrificed everything, including his family, career, and ultimately his freedom, to bring what he knew to light. Mark Felt shows us 'Watergate' as we’ve never seen it before, flipping the perspective from 'All The President’s Men’s' journalists-on-the-street to a view from the highest offices of power, an extraordinary window into a government in turmoil. The story of far-reaching 'White House' corruption, of which 'The Watergate' break-in was only a lone example. As current events strike startling parallels to the political turmoil of 'The Watergate' era; including power struggles between the executive branch and the FBI, evidence of election dirty tricks, and renewed 'White House' challenges to the veracity of the media; Mark Felt’s story could not be more timely.
As if what was happening between 'The FBI' and 'The Nixon White House' wasn't enough, Felt was also dealing with two extraordinarily personal tragedies at the same time. The first was with his wife, Audrey (Diane Lane). Audrey was beautiful, flirtatious, complicated, damaged, alcoholic, and probably bipolar, although they didn’t have that diagnosis in those days. She was like a firebird that he was in love with but couldn’t control. She was self-medicating, taking pills and drinking. But sometimes life can make you crazy if you don’t already have a proclivity for imbalance, and in her case she was justified to have these schisms in her personality, because she was asked to perform such rigorous compartmentalized duties, she had to maintain the secrets, she had to put on public airs, she had to be explaining to her children and compensate for the missing father, and she had to provide a nurturing home for him. She was, in hindsight, very neglected, and when she would drink she would clamor for attention, and she would voice her lack of attention, and that can be what you remember somebody by, because it’s the more dramatic moments.
The frustration of that must have been incredibly tough on her as well as on Joan (Maika Monroe), their daughter. There’s no doubt that Audrey’s conflicts with their brilliant and beautiful daughter caused her to run away from home, and live a counter-culture life on a farm in California. The two of them were products of vastly different generations and simply did not understand each other. That's tricky to witness your daughter flowering into young adulthood at a time when she's offered a lot more options than the previous generation was offered, and you get to witness your daughter making choices that you don’t approve of, and you're not afforded the same opportunities. Anybody who knows this about themselves is going to try to hide it, but it’s still going to manifest itself in some way.
Using Felt’s books 'The FBI Pyramid' and 'A G-Man’s Life' as foundational material, the film sets about researching the screenplay with the rigor and intensity he brought to his journalism. Mark Felt had a romantic idea of what a 'G-Man' was and he lived up to that. He believed in everything that Hoover stood for as regards security and defense of the country, and wanted to emulate him. At the same time, Felt was, by his own admission in his book, a careerist. Felt is what was known in 'The FBI' in those days as a ‘torpedo,’ meaning he would quite ruthlessly go for the main chance to advance himself in Hoover’s eyes. And as a man who was trained in counter-intelligence during 'WWII', Felt was a man who with a fluid skill set for telling untruths if it was necessary to serve his work. While giving information to Woodward and Sandy Smith of 'Time Magazine', he was, not only aggressively denying doing so, he was leading aggressive 'FBI' investigations into finding the leaker. That’s the riddle of the man. He was absolutely inscrutable. He spoke with authority but you could never quite read behind his eyes, even when he denied being ‘Deep Throat’ on television numerous times after Nixon left office.
Some stories simply call out to you. Nixon had resigned in 1973. Woodward and Bernstein, and the infamous source on Nixonian corruptions himself, had kept the name a secret for more than thirty years. When Mark Felt outed himself, you could feel anticlimax in the air, almost a disappointment. A life-long FBI man, the infantry of law enforcement. We've never even heard of him, but we knew one thing for sure; the seeming banality of the true identity of 'Deep Throat' was going to end up being precisely why Felt was one of the great stories of our time. Politics barely had a thing to do with it. It was principle, and it came at the steepest possible price, his career, all his friendships, his wife's life, and his future. He had self-immolated in the quiet dark and no one knew. Woodward knew how he did it, obviously, and the film wants to tell the world why. Lifer lawman discovers corruptions emanating from the highest office in the land, does all he can to investigate, is gagged by orders to implicitly join the cover-up, faces the moral crisis of a man built to defend truth and justice, ultimately chooses to sacrifice all he knows and stands for in the name of a higher calling. The film gives through 'The Looking Glass' of America's most important journalistic moment, the unveiling of the anonymous source, 'Deep Throat'. Felt had a lot more going on at the time than just 'Watergate'. There's a mythic romance of his situation. The mess of the 60's was over; the modernization of the 70's hadn't yet begun. The early 70's was an interstitial space. This is a movie about reaction and strategic silence..
After devoting his life to public service, Felt spent many of years after his 1973 retirement fighting the charges against him. He was convicted in November 1980, fined $5000, and given a full pardon in March 1981 by President Reagan. Still, all these years of shame were a source of great stress for Audrey, from which she never fully recovered. In July 1984, she took her own life with Felt’s service revolver. For three decades, the identity of “'Deep Throat', the anonymous source for 'Washington Post' reporters Woodward and Bernstein’s 'Watergate' coverage, was one of the greatest unsolved mysteries of American politics. Numerous possible candidates were put forward, but aside from Woodward and a few others, no one knew the answer until July, 2005, when it was revealed to be Mark Felt, a former #2 man at the FBI. While the world now had a name and a face, this knowledge only raised additional questions. Who was Mark Felt and what motivated him? Why did a man who sat at the top of an institution built on confidentiality, decide to reveal secrets? These were even bigger mysteries, whose solutions held the key to how this country emerged from the nightmare of 'Watergate'.
The reason Felt did what he did remains unanswered, but we can certainly guess that he saw firsthand what was happening in 'The Nixon Administration'; which was corruption, law-breaking, lying, and deceiving at the highest level. He was very concerned for his country, and he felt duty-bound to expose that. When You've to be willing sometimes to make very difficult choices, including destroying the thing you love to save the thing you love. Still, there's little doubt that Felt was torn about what he did, as it went against his instincts and training as an 'FBI' man. He did something noble by exposing Nixon’s corruption and he was probably proud of that, but at the same time there's a code in 'The FBI' that you just never snitch. There was a part of him that was 'The Lone Ranger' but also a part of him that was the good soldier. The part that was the good soldier could never quite forgive himself for some of the leaking and he was nervous about how it might be perceived, as he cared very much about his image with his fellow agents. Perhaps this explains why Felt adamantly denied being 'Deep Throat' for over three decades.
The laws of necessity, of self-preservation, of saving our country when in danger, are of higher obligations. To lose our country by a scrupulous adherence to written law would be to lose the law itself, with life, liberty, property, and all those who are enjoying them with us, thus, absurdly sacrificing the end to the means. Felt really believed that as regards these covert activities that he engaged in. He was breaking the law, but saw the country in very, very dire danger with these terrorist groups. 'Watergate' was the loss of innocence in our culture, of trusting our government. The time before that was a simpler time, and it’s nice to see what used to be considered shocking. Now we’ve seen what’s behind the curtain of ‘Oz,’ you can’t go back, unless you forget history. A corrupt government was found out, and that's democracy working. A lot of countries don’t have that and this film shines a light on America and the potential of what a real democracy can be. Although it seems like a long time ago, perhaps not much has changed since then.
One of the things we take away from it's that it’s easy as a human being, particularly as an American, when you’re in a time of political crisis to believe that nothing like this has ever happened before. Throughout our time as Americans, since the beginning of the Constitution, there have been these crises that have really pushed the country and separated the country. It’s not terribly unusual for it to happen. People in power have very frail and fragile egos, and are driven by paranoia, in addition to whatever senses of civic obligation they feel. And history repeats itself, because people keep doing the same stupid things to protect themselves, or doing what they think will protect themselves. Let’s not pretend that this can’t happen again. It can happen again and we always have to be prepared for it. People say it will never happen again, but it’s human nature and it can.