Liam Neeson may be mostly known these days as a man with a certain set of skills, but the man is more than the action star that Taken and most of his films since have shown. With Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House, Neeson gets to take on a character who had a different way of going after those who took something from him – namely, a job. But is a committed performance from Neeson enough to make Mark Felt work?
Mark Felt follows the life of its titular character during the span of the Watergate break-in. Felt, a consummate professional who’s worked his way up through the FBI to serve as second-in-command to J. Edgar Hoover, is widely assumed to be next in line when Hoover dies. When President Richard Nixon decides to appoint L. Patrick Gray (Marton Csokas) to the position instead, though, Felt is both unhappy with being passed over and dedicated to ensuring that, as much as possible, the Nixon White House can’t impede the investigation into the Watergate break-in. As Gray and the White House begin creating trouble for the investigation, Felt begins to leak information to the press, with readers only knowing him as “Deep Throat.”
There’s a certain coolness to Neeson that serves the character of Mark Felt well. He’s clearly intelligent, and more than capable of working his way through different scenarios. The problem is that the film wants to add dimensions to the character, to show the complexity of Felt, and it’s done in ways that don’t always work. The film touches on Felt’s home life, which makes sense with scenes where Felt and his wife (Diane Lane) discuss the work he’s put into the job and his frustrations with everything at work. But it also delves into the search Felt conducts for his daughter, which simply feels tacked-on. It feels like an attempt to bulk up the story, which runs at 103 minutes but seems closer to two hours at times.
The core story – the one that the subtitle of the film gives away plainly – is certainly interesting enough, and in today’s political climate, I’m sure a number of viewers will watch in part because they want to know where today’s version of Mark Felt is located. I hesitate to say that the main storyline is underdeveloped, and Neeson brings a level of calm intensity that give the storyline some momentum. I still have a nagging feeling, though, that there’s more the film could have used from the main storyline to develop the character without diving into the search for his daughter. That lack of development, unfortunately, keeps a perfectly watchable film from hitting its full potential.