Based on a true story of the most famous anonymous man in American history: Mark Felt, 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.
Written and directed by Peter Landesman (CONCUSSION, PARKLAND), the film is headed by Academy Award® nominated Liam Neeson as Mark Felt, as well as Academy Award® nominated Diane Lane, as his wife Audrey. The film’s cast also includes such celebrated actors as: Marton Csokas (Acting FBI Director L. Patrick Gray); Tony Goldwyn, Josh Lucas, Ike Barinholtz, Brian d’Arcy James (FBI Agents Ed Miller, Charlie Bates, Angelo Lano, and Robert Kunkel); Tom Sizemore (Felt’s FBI rival, Bill Sullivan); Michael C. Hall (John Dean); Wendi McLendon-Covey (Felt’s secretary Carol Tschudy); Bruce Greenwood (Sandy Smith); Julian Morris (Bob Woodward); Maika Monroe (Felt’s daughter Joan); Kate Walsh (Ed Miller’s wife Pat); Noah Wyle (Federal Prosecutor Stan Pottinger); and Eddie Marsan (Agency Man).
Some stories simply call out to you. I was a former investigative reporter and war correspondent in Chicago the day Vanity Fair broke the identity of Deep Throat. It was July 2005. 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. Felt wasn't sexy. He wasn't a celebrity. A life-long FBI man, the infantry of law enforcement. I'd never even heard of him, but I 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. Who the hell was this guy to step into the breach revealing a president’s sins, and corruptions? Who did this anonymous “ditch-digger” think he was to help change the course of history?
I called my agent from Chicago. I instructed her to do whatever it took to get me in the room with the producers hiring the screenwriter to write this movie. (I hadn't yet started directing.) I was going to visit Felt, and then I was going to Washington, to find out not just who this guy was, and how he pulled this off, but why. When I found out why, I was floored. 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 as a filmmaker I wanted 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.
Felt became to me an object of honor. I related personally to all of this, and owe him the debt of his story. We all do.
The film dives 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. His story is mythic.
The epic nature of the real story gave me certain freedoms as a filmmaker. I looked at Felt's isolations- at work, at home- and the stakes, and saw the mythic romance of his situation. It made me want to make this film exceedingly beautiful, the way an Edward Hopper painting can be beautiful and vertigo-inducing. I didn't want an overtly period look, didn't want to pull that trick of making the movie seem as if it was shot in the 70' s. But I didn't want a crisp contemporary feel either. I chose a palette unique to Felt and unique to his world. 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. So, I shot on a digital camera, but with vintage anamorphic lenses for an organic painterly look. As if the camera were the eyes of a voyeur, with his own subjective point of view about what and who we're watching. I created a wall of images by Todd Hido and Saul Leteir, photographers who captured a particularly American brand of isolation, using color that was moody but never artificial. I shot almost everything through blue filters to cool everything off. Cool but never cold. Colors play the emotions.
Liam Neeson as Felt was more than casting. The actor taking Felt on would be stepping into enormous, but invisible shoes. This film would be Deep Throat's coming out. Liam, elegant and tall and quiet in body like Felt, was really, now that I think about it, my only choice. His integrity- as a man, as an artist- mirrors Felt's. The way other actors in our business clamor to work with him, his diligence as a professional on set- all of this reminded me of Felt in the FBI, and at home: stoic, measured, incisive... and a killer, when he had to be.
I was determined to surround Liam with the best character actors working, even to come in for a single scene. This is as much a movie about reaction and strategic silence, as it is about dialog and plot. It's harder, and more interesting, for an actor to tell story without saying a word. I asked Diane Lane to play Felt's combustible and troubled wife, Audrey, because of her ability to play strong, fearsome and frail at the same time. Tony Goldwyn and Josh Lucas, top actors on all size screens, as Felt's FBI lieutenants. Brian D' Arcy James, Michael C. Hall, Eddie Marsan, Tom Sizemore, Bruce Greenwood, Marton Csokas, Noah Wyle - all did this film in support of Liam as Felt, and to lend the story the depth and integrity it demands.
- Peter Landesman