Hey, remember how crazy Watergate was? A wild time of political unrest when the not even the president of the United States could be trusted by his colleagues or constituents. Thank god that’ll never happen again, huh? Obviously no one involved in making Mark Felt possibly could have predicted that it would suddenly seem so relevant when hitting screens in the Trump era, but that accidental timing certainly makes this chilly paranoid thriller far more intriguing and relevant than it should be.
Liam Neeson stars as the titular Felt, one of J Edgar Hoover’s closest allies who was mysteriously passed over to run the FBI after old Hoovie kicked the bucket. The film opens with that day, then watches as Felt becomes so enraged by the meddling of his superiors in the Watergate scandal that he starts to leak to the press, eventually earning the legendary moniker ‘Deep Throat.’ Director and former journalist Peter Landesman shoots it all like Michael Mann-lite. Compositions are crisp, clothing is fashionably slick, all drama is simmering, and there is a queasy paranoid tension to seemingly every moment. A murders row of character actors like Michael C. Hall, Brian d’Arcy James, Josh Lucas, Eddie Marsan, Tom Sizemore and Ike Barinholtz all line up to be shadowy and mysterious. The result is classy political paranoia for those who enjoy such things.
For the most part, Mark Felt works damn well. The subject is worth all of the smokey room tension and pregnant import. The cast pull it all off, anchored by Neeson doing his growling-with-dignity routine as only he can. The trouble is that we have kind of seen this story before (you know, All The Presidents Men and so forth) and whenever the movie shifts focus to Felt’s family life it turns into a messy maudlin distraction. Still, while Mark Felt isn’t brilliant it nails the singular paranoid tone damn well and accidentally hits screens at a perfect time for audiences to embrace an FBI agent brave enough to go against the White House. That’ll do for a puffy political time waster. That’ll do.