NEW YORK — More than four decades after Hal Holbrook stood smoking in a darkened parking lot, urging Robert Redford's Bob Woodward to "follow the money," the famed Watergate source "Deep Throat" is, in cinematic terms, finally stepping out of the shadows.
"Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House" is a kind of bookend to Alan J. Pakula 1976 masterpiece "All the President's Men" that gives a belated big-screen close-up to the man who was — until he revealed himself in 2005 as the Washington Post's famous source — shrouded in mystery.
But whether "Mark Felt" adds clarity to the legend of Watergate or further mythologizes it is up for debate. Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, the famed journalists whose reporting earned the Washington Post a Pulitzer Prize, say Peter Landesman's film overstates the importance of Felt in untangling Watergate, portraying him as a puppet master pulling the strings that would, as the subtitle asserts, topple Richard Nixon.
Felt, then the No. 2 official at the Federal Bureau of Investigation, played an integral role in exposing Nixon's attempted cover-up. But by depicting Felt as the grand orchestrator of the president's demise, Woodward and Bernstein say, "Mark Felt" distorts the history — and lessons — of Watergate.
"Felt played a role, at times a courageous one," Woodward told The Associated Press. "But this portrait of him as 'the man who brought down the White House' just isn't accurate."
Felt died in Santa Rosa at the age of 95 in 2008.
Woodward and Bernstein voiced their concerns with Landesman in an email to the filmmaker last October that they shared with The Associated Press. They implored Landesman to drop the subtitle, calling it "demonstrably false."
In the letter, they maintained that Nixon's fall was "the work of many" — contributors they listed as ranging from Frank Wells, the Watergate office security guard who discovered the break in, to the Supreme Court, which unanimously ruled that Nixon had to turn over his tapes. "Mark Felt was only one of several dozen sources we used," they wrote.
"Let the story speak for itself," they concluded. "A hyped effort to make it more will fail and do yourselves and Mark Felt a grave disservice."
It's far from the first time the facts surrounding Watergate have been contested. Woodward and Bernstein have played their own part in growing the legend around their landmark journalism and the aura around the source they nicknamed. Their 1974 book, "All the President's Men," recounted their extraordinarily methodical, step-by-step reporting. The resulting film, starring Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman, stayed close to the truth but it added some dramatic flourishes. The now-famous line "follow the money," for example, was an invention of screenwriter William Goldman.
In response to Woodward and Bernstein's comments, Landesman — a former investigative journalist, himself, whose previous film was the 2015 docudrama "Concussion," with Will Smith — suggested there were parallels between the approaches of the two films.
"This film sees Watergate through the keyhole of Felt's experience as the man leading the FBI investigation into the White House's cover-up, just as 'All the President's Men' saw Watergate through the keyhole of Woodward and Bernstein's experience," Landesman said in a statement to the AP.
In an earlier interview about the film, Landesman boasted of the film's accuracy — particularly in a parking garage meeting between Woodward and Felt — in comparison to "All the President's Men." Landesman added that Pakula's film is one of his favorites.