News / Canada

'Mark Felt' biopic turns lens on Watergate whistleblower 'Deep Throat'

TORONTO — The director of a new biopic on the infamous "Deep Throat" Watergate whistleblower sees potential parallels between the 1970s U.S. political scandal and the current probe involving the White House.

Special counsel Robert Mueller, a former FBI director, is leading an investigation into Russian interference in the last U.S. election, and potential ties to Donald Trump's campaign.

Filmmaker Peter Landesman thinks the Mueller probe is "heading in a very similar direction" to the investigation that led to the resignation of former U.S. president Richard Nixon. He chronicles the role of whistleblower "Deep Throat," played by Liam Neeson, in the new film "Mark Felt: The Man Who Took Down the White House," which hits theatres Friday in Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal.

"The difference is that this president is isolated from everybody around him," said Landesman during an interview at the Toronto International Film Festival last month. "The super structure is sort of falling around him on a daily basis. It feels inevitable."

The Watergate scandal centred on a break-in and attempted bugging at the Democratic National Committee's headquarters at the Watergate Hotel and office complex in the months before the 1972 election.

The film takes a deep dive into the uncovering of the crime and coverup from the viewpoint of the FBI.

After the death of J. Edgar Hoover, special agent Felt is passed over as the late FBI director's successor. Felt is selected as associate director, yet finds the Nixon administration is attempting to keep tight reins on both him and his colleagues, particularly when it comes to the Watergate break-in.

It was only in 2005 that Felt, then 91, revealed to the world that he was "Deep Throat," the mysterious source who leaked information about the White House coverup to Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein.

"His anonymity is also a part of his mythology and I think also such a part of who he is in relation to this story," said Landesman, an award-winning investigative journalist and war correspondent.

"To me, the true measure of selflessness is to do something without putting your name on it. His anonymity, to me, just proves his heroism and self-sacrifice because what he did was actually universally good."

Neeson said he thinks Felt — who died in 2008 — was "personally crushed" over being snubbed for the top FBI job, which may have motivated him to start spilling secrets to the Washington Post.

The actor — who hails from a small town outside the Northern Ireland capital of Belfast — admitted he was only vaguely aware of Watergate prior to filming. It was through his research for the movie that he appreciated the magnitude of the story.

Neeson thinks Watergate continues to have modern day resonance because "democracy was at stake."

"A man who could have gone down as one of America's great presidents was shown to be a crook and criminal who thought he was above the law," Neeson said.

"Investigative journalism found that out, and we're all richer because of it."

— With files from The Associated Press.

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