At the box office, “Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House” hasn’t done “Dick.”

No, that’s not a vulgarity. It’s an empirical observation. At this writing, more than 40 days into its theatrical release, Peter Landesman’s deeply-flawed Watergate movie has yet to take in $900,000 worldwide. “Dick,” the 1999 Nixon White House comedy, cleared $2 million its first weekend.

You remember “Dick,” don’t you?

Exactly. That’s where “Mark Felt” will end up, too. So why bother reviewing it? It’s already on its way to video, right?

Yes, it is, in a director’s cut that will add a half hour of additional droop to the eyelids of those unfortunate enough to get suckered into downloading and watching it. There won’t be many of them. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that there will be some who do. And the worse news is that many of those will take it for what its creators, Peter Landesman and John O’Connor, claim it to be: A true story, the heretofore hidden history of how one unsung, family-conflicted anti-hero got called unwillingly into action and ended up single-handedly taking down a corrupt president and all his smarmy men.

That’s a very compelling storyline, one that should have produced a riveting fictional political drama. Landesman had all the elements in place: excellent actors (Liam Neeson, Diane Lane, Michael C. Hall), good cinematography and editing (Adam Kimmel, Tariq Anwar), and priceless market timing (Trump, Comey, Mueller, etc.). All he had to do was take a hint from Sydney Pollock or Tom Clancy: Change a few names, add a “based on actual events” tag line, and start his countdown to the Oscar nominations. (Oh, and follow a few screenwriting and directing basics to make the plot comprehensible. Beginning, middle, end. A character or two that you might care about. You know, stuff like that.)

But that’s not what Landesman did. Instead, he and O’Connor decided to make what they wanted the public to regard as a docudrama revealing the true history behind Watergate and its lone unsung hero. The resultant failure, with its paltry box-office and 33 percent Rotten Tomatoes rating, should have been predictable. So why did they choose to make this movie?

O’Connor’s motivation is clear enough: He’s the Mark Felt family attorney. In 2005, with his 91-year-old client declining into dementia, and after failing to negotiate Bob Woodward into sharing the future royalties of Woodward’s not-yet-published “Deep Throat” tell-all with his client, O’Connor went nuclear, orchestrating Felt’s self-outing in Vanity Fair (“I’m the Guy They Called Deep Throat”, July 2005), and then setting up the $1 million book and movie deal that resulted, 12 years later, in this movie. A million bucks and a hagiographic Hollywood feature with Liam Neeson starring as your family’s heroic patriarch. We should all have such lawyers.

But Landesman? That’s a murkier tale.

But first, let me stop here for some full disclosure: the villain in the film, portrayed by Martin Csokas, is L. Patrick Gray III, the Justice Department official appointed by Nixon as Acting Director of the FBI the day after J. Edgar Hoover died. Pat Gray was my father. I co-authored his Watergate memoir, In Nixon’s Web, finishing his nearly-completed first-person account after he died in 2005. So I’m in authoritative position to say this: The film gets his haircut right.

But I’m not going to go there. Instead I want to discuss the film in a wider context: Hollywood’s frequent, often intentional distortion of important episodes of American history into wide-release films whose creators then go on to proclaim their newly-discovered “truths.”

Oliver Stone’s “JFK”, with its “magic bullet” and witness testimony that never occurred in real life is undoubtedly the most flagrant and best-known example. Landesman’s new film continues in this less-than-grand tradition. Here he is at the Toronto Film Festival:

Look, there’s the filmmaker in me and me and the journalist. To me, one protects the other. And I knew that the film would be held up to scrutiny. So I wanted to make sure the journalism behind the movie was really correct. Mark’s book didn’t reveal himself as Deep Throat… So a lot of my information about this man and what happened really came from two sources outside the book. One was an FBI agent that Tony Goldwyn played…Ed Miller… And then the other person was a family friend who became Felt’s lover after Audrey Felt committed suicide. They were very close family friends and she was inside that family forever.

I’m not going to pick apart this movie. Why bother? It’s Landesman’s claim of the “really correct journalism” behind it that needs scrutiny. Note that Landesman admits that in Felt’s own memoir he “didn’t reveal himself as Deep Throat.” That’s an understatement: Felt always vehemently denied it (though he did appear to finally embrace it, through family recollections and via O’Connor, in the Vanity Fair article. Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein also confirmed him as sourcing their Watergate reporting in Woodward’s 2006 book, The Secret Man: The Story of Watergate’s Deep Throat.) But who were Landesman’s two primary sources to prove he was? A very close family friend, and Ed Miller, “an FBI agent.”

Ed Miller was not just “an FBI agent.” Miller and Mark Felt were the two highest ranking FBI officials ever convicted, found guilty together in November 1980 of what they had been secretly doing together at the FBI during the precise time covered by this film, together managing a dangerous, career-ending plot that they took great pains to hide from their new Nixon-appointed acting director. Leaking to the press? Conspiring to protect the integrity of the Watergate investigation? The subject of this movie, right? No. It’s not even in the movie. They were found guilty of conspiring to violate the constitutional rights of other Americans, by authorizing warrantless illegal entries into the homes and businesses of suspected anti-war radicals. (To his, um, credit, Landesman does tip his writer/director hat to that sorry episode, by pasting on a thin subplot about parents Mark and Audrey Felt trying to find where in the counterculture underground their runaway daughter was hiding. So worried dad Mark nervously breaks a few FBI rules by pulling some inside strings to look for her. Sure.) Felt was pardoned seven months later by President Reagan.

Why did Landesman make his movie into a Felt family puff piece instead of, well, a good film? I don’t have that answer. Maybe CAA, the talent agency that represents Landesman and Tom Hanks, does. In 2005 the agency packaged Tom Hanks and Universal Pictures into the O’Connor-crafted deal with then-living Mark Felt that gave them what Variety reported to be “the rights to the story of Deep Throat.” In that initial configuration, Hanks was going to produce the film and play Felt, Jay Roach was going to direct, and Landesman was going to co-write with Gary Goetzman. In November 2006, however, Variety reported that Landesman was now the sole screenwriter and IMDb Pro listed Goetzman as a producer. By the time the film went into pre-production in 2015, Landesman had a firm grip on his trifecta stub as producer, director, and writer.

“Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House” is nowhere near the good movie it might have been. To have gotten there, much would have had to be done differently. Less deference to the pedestal-erecting desires of Felt’s heirs and their hard-negotiating family lawyer would have made a good start. But the film’s fatal flaw is its beginning-to-end insistence on a historically inaccurate depiction of its main character, a creative choice by its writer/director/producer that made it not just a bad movie, but a poisonous addition to a much larger problem, the one best described by Max Holland in Leak: Why Mark Felt Became Deep Throat :

Forty years later, the damage wrought by continuing to misinterpret or misrepresent Mark Felt is no longer to an individual (Pat Gray), an institution (the FBI), or the legal process. Rather, it is to history, to public understanding of Watergate and the Nixon presidency, and how the break-in brought a president down.

(One more bit of full disclosure: My personal copy of Leak is inscribed, “For Ed Gray, whose book with his father persuaded me that the subject was worth re-visiting. Max Holland, March 2012.”)

Unfortunately, Holland’s revisit added to that same damage to the truth, starting with his book’s subtitle, which would have been every bit as accurate had it read, “Why Mark Felt Became the Tooth Fairy,” and for the same reason. Deep Throat, like that other secretive night visitor, is an artfully crafted myth, easy enough to sell at the outset, but progressively more difficult to defend as the audience matures and begins to think about it.

This isn’t a revelation. Many knowledgeable participants—my father was among them—have said repeatedly that Deep Throat was a composite of the multiple sources who spoke to Bob Woodward off the record. No one individual, as every knowledgeable insider in position to comment has always said, could possibly have held all that information at that time.

The various demonstrations of this assertion, that the character named Deep Throat was a fictional creation that arose after William Goldman started writing the screenplay for the movie version of All the President’s Men, are extensive, convincing, and readily available. I won’t rehash them here, save to suggest, somewhat immodestly, that you start with what James Rosen wrote, reviewing In Nixon’s Web in The American Spectator in June 2008:

In their bestselling book All the President’s Men, and in the hugely successful film based on it, Woodward used the code name “Deep Throat” to identify Felt. But through a careful examination of Woodward and Bernstein’s archival papers, which the University of Texas paid $5 million to acquire — the Gray collection should fetch three times that — Ed Gray, in a brilliantly researched coda, demolishes forever the notion that Deep Throat was Mark Felt alone. Others have already made inroads on this subject, but the use of Woodward’s own typed notes makes the judgment final. Indeed, Ed Gray even identified one of the other sources Woodward has been protecting with the Deep Throat umbrella for all these years—and got that individual to admit as much, on the record. Only Woodward, who cooperated with the Gray project until the questions became uncomfortable, is left clinging to the fictions of All the President’s Men.

The Deep Throat wonderland is a labyrinthine rabbit hole down which any number of well- and ill-intentioned writers, journalists, and filmmakers have crawled. Almost all of them have resurfaced with a disjointed tale defying reality. This current attempt is no different. Still, you have to wonder. How did a much-heralded Tom Hanks production morph across a decade into an almost straight-to-video Peter Landesman flop? Who knows? That’s Hollywood, folks.

But is that how we want our national history recorded?

Ed Gray is a naturalist writer and the founder of Gray’s Sporting Journal. He is co-author of In Nixon’s Web. He lives in Lyme, New Hampshire.