All the President’s Men (1976) … Remembered
I watched All the President’s Men (1976) starring Robert Redford to find out if this movie was the greatest political thriller of all time like people say it is. This movie has won all kinds of awards and today is remembered for that honor, for being the best, and for bringing something great to the genre and true to reality. The topic of the film is the Watergate scandal and an investigation of corruption. Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman play reporters who work for the Washington Post and I really believed it.
The movie begins with the Watergate break-in and how the scandal got started. Redford’s character begins investigating the facts at once, and the dialogue is great. Everyone gives him the runaround, but he’s about as persistent as any journalist ever. The facts are clearly discussed, explained, and argued about, making it easy for the audience to catch on, to become engrossed in the events. People don’t stand around blab blabbing for long because there is one quick revelation after another. Reporters run around, type things, talk on the phone and meet endless amounts of people.
The best thing the movie gets right is the authentic feel of the newspaper investigation. Redford spends time making calls on the phone. He interviews people. He takes notes. He types stories on his typewriter in his little cubical and people proofread his story. It feels real. Redford’s character Bob Woodward is totally invested in what he is doing and I can tell. He plays it perfectly.
Dustin Hoffman plays Carl Bernstein, the usual coy and smart character Hoffman always plays, which is, I suppose, good and bad. Bernstein is a young, inexperienced reporter, and that seems to come up at numerous times during his investigation, but he is a good partner for Woodward, as they both are methodical and meticulous with their work. The big boss shoots them down though and advances the pace by pushing Woodward and Bernstein forward, criticizing their work, and asking for more, hard facts.
The movie’s style is undeniably real. Redford’s apartment is littered with evidence that he is a journalist, a man who is a workaholic. The city and the modern feel of Washington is all there. There are some night shots, but none of them are too dark when they don’t need to be, and the camera sticks with Redford, following him as if we are with the reporters, working with them toward a deadline. Angles are traditional and clearly establish where we are and where the characters go. This is most evident as Woodward meets Deep Throat in the Watergate parking lot, a famous scene.
As Woodward meets with Deep Throat for the first time in the movie, I was wondering if he was becoming desperate. Deep Throat is the classic and stereotypical silent source you might expect, but drives Woodward in the right direction. Of course, movies now have this type of character in them all the time, but this movie keeps it simple and keeps it real. On the other hand, Bernstein has his own sources that seem more legitimate, but no less opaque. You can see both of them move with the excitement of the story.
Is there a story? Where are the facts? Woodward and Bernstein ask these questions even of themselves and begin to doubt the reality of what they are doing. The middle of the movie is a bit slower and is all about following the money, interviewing people, and getting to the bottom of the finances, money that the Committee to Re-Elect Richard Nixon was supposed to be responsible for. The dialogue is heavily political and many of the questions Bernstein asks try to connect the dots, so familiarity with names like Gordon Liddy helps. It is shot traditionally. For example, Bernstein is shown asking a question and the camera cuts to the interviewee, who answers the question. The director of the movie was Alan Pakula, who did To Kill a Mockingbird, so I’m not surprised.
Deep Throat is played by Hal Holbrook, a veteran actor. He has a rough voice and comes across as an off-beat, omniscient person, and it is up to Woodward to ask the right questions. But even when Woodward discovers part of the truth, Deep Throat warns him that his life is in danger. It is like an episode of the X-files, but more grounded and the dialogue is better. I loved that TV show, so I was right at home.
All in all, the movie wraps up all the loose ends nicely and concludes with consequences for those who lied, cheated, and did all things illegal. A montage at the end shows Nixon’s resignation.
To answer my own question, I think this movie is the best political thriller ever made. It is heavy on the politics and quick on the delivery. No one is way over-the-top and it is engrossing. The two lead characters are so determined that I became curious if they would ever be satisfied with the outcome of their story, whatever that was. I wouldn’t say the movie has documentary elements, but it is grounded in reality and doesn’t waste a moment showing us scenery or giving us dialogue about lunch or some crap. If you know history, you already know Nixon is going to resign, so what we’re left with is the journey, because that’s what this movie is about.
This film was selected as Nationally significant by the Library of Congress in 2010. The only things I think I can criticize are the length and the dense, dense content of the film itself. No movie has caused me to listen more than this one because it is not simply about following our heroes to the evil villain, but it is about rooting out corruption somewhere amidst a field of gray, where everyone, and I mean everyone, is either afraid or deceitful. Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford play characters trying to wade through the field of gray to get at the facts of some crime, a conspiracy, and a misuse of government. These actors ultimately accomplish a show of support of a free press and the benefits of the American society. It is a triumph for both the characters and actors.