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All the President's Men


Year of release

Directed by
Alan J. Pakula

Written by
William Goldman

Robert Redford
Dustin Hoffman
Jason Robards
Jack Warden

All the President's Men

An important, landmark film. Probably one of the most essential movies of the 70s. These are accolades I've seen this film labelled with for quite a while. And now that I've seen it, I understand why and would echo those sentiments. It's a finely crafted film of extremely high quality.

A great deal of the interest for me came just from learning about one of the most intriguing and important moments in American history. While I knew the broad strokes of the Watergate/Nixon story it was very intriguing to learn about it more thoroughly, about all the little ins and outs, the facts, the lengths of the investigation and who was involved. As much as it's about the Watergate scandal it's also about the journalistic process. It depicts it at it's purest core, and it comes across very inspiring. I think just about anyone who sees the film will think (even if just for a second) how great it would be to be a journalist, breaking a big story. It really shows what an incredible task Woodward and Bernstein took on; how tough a slog it was, and throughout I kept thinking how easy it would have been for me to give up if I was in their shoes

While I don't know anything about the production of the film it feels like it must have been a risky and tough sell at the time. With it taking such a comprehensive and realistic approach it hardly comes across as the most obviously commercial of films. It doesn't show their journalistic journey as being incredibly exciting or action packed, instead producing a restrained, unshowy account. Add to that the fact of it being extremely dialogue heavy, and that the two lead performers rather tone down their star appeal to play extraordinarily normal, everyday guys and it's a surprise (and quite heartening) that the film was such a large success, coming in as the #4 highest grossing film of the year. I wonder how such an 'adult' film would fare today. In those terms it reminds me of David Fincher's Zodiac; a film that concentrates on the painstaking process of the investigation, rather than concerning itself with a sensationalised reconstruction of the events.

To take that further, when you consider the style in which the film is presented it's a good deal more engrossing than you feel it really should be. It basically follows a pattern of – three scenes where they interview people, two scenes where they are talking on the phone, one scene where there's a meeting in the office and then back to the start on a loop. And yet somehow it completely draws you in. And so many of the moments have now become staples of the genre – the good guys being bugged and having their lives in possible peril, clandestine meetings with a shadowy figure – that at times I felt I had to remind myself that this is actually real. This really happened!

Hoffman and Redford both put in strong, solid performances but I can see why neither was nominated for an Oscar. They are not really allowed to show any great range of emotions, nor do either have personal character arcs. The story has the arc and they are just a part of that. I think they should both be congratulated for not grandstanding, for not attempting to grab the glory. To me it instead feels like their only interest was to just contribute to the whole experience and accomplishmen of the film. Someone else who most certainly merits mention is Jason Robards who portrays Ben Bradlee, the editor of the Washington Post. He provides an injection of weary passion and humour to the film. He also delivers perhaps one of my favourite quotes in quite a while. “Nothing's riding on this except the First Amendment of the Constitution, freedom of the press and maybe the future of the country. Not that any of that matters but if you guys f**k up again I'm gonna get mad.”

My immediate reaction to the ending was one of slight disappointment. I was expecting it to go all the way, climaxing at the point where they uncover the fact that Nixon himself is involved. However after thinking about it for a moment and going back to rewatch it, I really quite loved it in it's low-key, subtle way. You have Richard Nixon on the TV screen being sworn in as President, while in the background Bernstein and Woodward are frantically writing the story that will bring him crashing down, the clacking of the typewriter keys becoming almost deafening. And then the simple, non-sensationalist way they detail what eventually became of all those involved in the crimes and cover-ups.

And if you want two more indications that show just how much I appreciated the film, afterwards I went and further investigated the case, checking to see how long their investigation took and what Bernstein and Woodward did afterwards. After all when you've brought down the President of the United States what do you do for an encore? And the other indicator? That I almost immediately went and bought the DVD so I could learn more from the extras. And I knew right away it was a film I wanted in my collection

Would I call it one of the absolute 'must see films' out there? I'm not sure but at the very, very least it's damn close.