In the film All the President's Men (1976) we see the power of investigative journalism at its best as Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein use their tenacity and writing skills in a heroic David-and-Goliath struggle to bring down the corrupt and criminal Presidency of Richard Nixon. In this version of the fallout from the break-in at the Democratic National Committee's headquarters at the Watergate hotel in Washington, D.C., the focus is on Mark Felt (Liam Neeson), who has spent 30 years in loyal service of the FBI as second-in-command under Director J. Edgar Hoover. He comes across as a zealous believer in the institution he has so ardently served.
However, his behavior shifts after Hoover's death when he, the can-do veteran, is passed over for the promotion. Instead, the Nixon administration appoints Patrick Gray (Marton Csokas) to the directorship. With no prior FBI experience, Gray is clearly a political appointee. This becomes all the more apparent to Felt when he is ordered to quickly wrap up the Watergate investigation — despite the fact that Felt's team of top FBI agents (Tony Goldwyn, Josh Lucas, Ike Barinholtz, and others) are building a strong case to prove that people in the White House, perhaps even the President, were behind Watergate. Felt deeply resents that the White House is ignoring and undermining the independence of the FBI. Knowing of the Nixon administration's campaign of spying and sabotage against its many perceived enemies, Felt decides to blow the whistle on the paranoid President and his inner circle of advisors. He contacts the press, including the Washington Post reporters, who give him the nickname "Deep Throat."
Adding more stress to an already tense life, Felt has an alcoholic and depressed wife (Diane Lane) who laments the life of secrecy and constant moves he has given her. His beloved daughter (Maika Monroe) has run away; he suspects she is living in a counterculture commune but also worries that she might be part of a radical group engaged in violence against the state. Felt shows his true colors as a career G-man when he orders a forceful law and order campaign against the Weather Underground.
Although we have become used to seeing negative reviews of political films like this one which ambitiously take on complex and ethically charged subjects, we disagree with the response to this one. We were edified by Mark Felt — The Man Who Took Down the White House and found ourselves drawn into the suspense of these historical events. We also couldn't help but notice its resonances with what is happening in Washington today.
This story reveals the elitism and enmity within the Nixon administration and the tactics they used to stay in power. Felt was dismayed by their lack of respect for the law and the independence of the FBI, an attitude being repeated in the Trump White House.
Director Peter Landesman vividly conveys the ways in which Watergate and the war in Vietnam gave birth to a cynicism about America and its character. At one point, Felt laments that "you have to destroy anything beyond repair to rescue it." That pattern, too, lingers in our present-day culture.
Finally, those running Nixon's political operations are masters at using chaos to hide their true intentions of subterfuge and skullduggery. "That's the plan," we are told. "Confusion is control." Sound familiar?