A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House is a drama about real-life former associate director of the FBI Mark Felt, who, after missing out on promotions and coming under pressure from an unfriendly new director, decides to leak information about the Watergate break-in to the press. Expect strong language, including a couple uses of "f--k" (said during an anti-war chant), plus "bulls--t" and other words. A married couple is affectionate; they dance, snuggle, and kiss. Characters smoke cigarettes frequently; there's also some social drinking. Violence isn't an issue, but there are discussions about the death of the former FBI director. It's a fascinating story, but it's unfortunately undone by lackluster filmmaking that focuses more on explaining than storytelling.
What's the story?
In MARK FELT: THE MAN WHO BROUGHT DOWN THE WHITE HOUSE, it's 1972, and FBI Associate Director Mark Felt (Liam Neeson) is busy looking into attacks by radical group the Weather Underground when the news arrives that FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover has died. Not long after, the Watergate building in Washington, D.C. -- headquarters for the Democratic National Committee -- is broken into. Felt and his men begin investigating, believing that the break-in could lead all the way to the White House and President Nixon. But, unexpectedly, Felt doesn't get promoted, much to the dismay of his wife (Diane Lane). Worse, the newly appointed director, Pat Gray (Marton Csokas), wants the Watergate investigation shut down. So Felt decides to start secretly leaking information to the press, specifically Bob Woodward of the Washington Post, thereby becoming the famous "Deep Throat" informer. Felt keeps his secret, but the leak causes great unrest in the Bureau, and Felt must eventually pay the price.
Is it any good?
Though Neeson is commanding in his role, and though Felt's story is a powerful one, this political drama eventually fails to rise above an overly explanatory, visually static storytelling style. Writer/director Peter Landesman previously made two other movies based on real-life political situations, Parkland and Concussion, and both were similarly shortchanged, more dedicated to explaining their messages than telling stories or conveying emotions.
The Watergate story has been told so well several times already, from All the President's Men (1976), Nixon (1995), and Frost/Nixon (2008), to the comedy Dick (1999), and it certainly could have been done again. But Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House can't seem to avoid endless scenes of men in rooms talking in tense tones -- or, worse, poor Lane's Audrey Felt doing nothing but getting aggravated with her husband. As the movie plods toward its history-changing conclusion, Landesman seems less and less certain of where to put the camera or how to lift up the story and get it moving.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House's depiction of smoking. How was public opinion about smoking different in the 1970s than it is now? Is smoking glamorized in the film?
Is Felt a role model? What does he risk, and what does he accomplish? Do others benefit from his actions? Are others punished?
What did you learn about the Watergate story that you perhaps did not know before? How accurate do you think the movie is to what actually happened? Why might filmmakers choose to alter the facts in stories that are based on real-life events?
How does this film compare to other fictional movies about Watergate?
- In theaters: September 29, 2017
- On DVD or streaming: January 9, 2018
- Cast: Liam Neeson, Diane Lane, Marton Csokas
- Director: Peter Landesman
- Studio: Sony Pictures Classics
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: History
- Run time: 103 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: some language
- Last updated: September 20, 2019
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