All the President’s Men – 1976
Director – Alan J. Pakula
Starring – Dustin Hoffman, Robert Redford, Hal Holbrook and Jason Robards
As far as politically charged thrillers go, the 70’s was full of them. Covering topics as influential and wide-ranging as Kennedy’s assassination, the civil rights movement, the Vietnam war, and of course corruption in government. While inspired by real events, the majority of these stories seem to be firmly rooted in the realm of fiction, however the dramatized re-telling of the Watergate scandal investigation is a rather shocking view into the reality of the political climate in the era of Richard Nixon…and it is all the more fantastic because of it.
Director, Alan Pakula had a string of successful thrillers in the 70’s in addition to All the President’s Men, including Klute, and the Parallax View starring Donald Sutherland and Warren Beatty respectively. The famous journalists at the heart of this story, Woodward and Bernstein, are played fantastically by Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman respectively. Redford, who was initially just a producer on the film, chose Dustin Hoffman to balance the film’s star power when it became clear that he would be acting in it. As a result, the plot isn’t so much bogged down by the star power, but propelled by it. Hoffman, and especially Redford are at the top of their games. It is especially apparent with Redford, who as far as I can tell, used to be quite a charismatic and attractive fellow.
Aside from it’s two headline stars, the film is populated with a plethora of talented character actors as well. Jason Robards plays the crochety editor of the Washington Post, Hal Holbrook plays “Deep Throat” the secret informant who led Woodward and Bernstein in the right direction, and we are even treated to a young Meridith Baxter, best known as being Alex P. Keaton’s mom in Family Ties, in a minor but memorable role. Though these actors and actresses weren’t the box office draws that the two leading actors were, their parts are no less captivating and enthralling to watch (Robards especially).
For those not up to date on their political history, the film begins with a break-in at the offices of the Democratic National Committee at the Watergate Hotel in Washington, DC. While briefly hot news, the story quickly got bogged down in mis-information, and cover-ups. Most news organizations dropped the story in favor of concentrating on the nomination of the Republican and Democratic candidates. Woodward and Bernstein, both reporters for the Washington Post, never let the story drop. Both continued to chase leads, dig up information, and famously, follow the money, despite the risk to their careers. The result was one of the most wide-ranging political conspiracies of our times, which in good part, led to the disenfranchisement of the American people and the resignation of an American president.
As with many thrillers in the 70’s, All the President’s Men relies heavily on pacing to build tension and establish the stakes of the story, which it manages to do fantastically well. Many times throughout the film, there are shots that last multiple minutes, slowly zooming in, or remaining static as the actors move around the screen. This allows the gravity in the story to seep into the audience. Often times the tension is broken through the mixture of elements, such as through sound, juxtaposition in the composition of a the next shot or scene, or through the editing. During a long zooming shot of characters interacting, a phone may suddenly ring, a car horn may sound, or a typewriter may suddenly start clacking away.
The use of metaphor in the film is a powerful one that fits perfectly with the message of the film, words are weapons, and they can be just as powerful in the right hands as they can be in the wrong ones. This ideal is driven home, most notably, in the end scene in which a television is playing actual footage of a twenty-one gun salute for Nixon’s re-nomination while in the back ground there is a layer of busy typewriter sound. Woodward and Bernstein are hard at work even while it seems that the wrong side has won.
This film bears a similarity to another film that I’ve reviewed already, Costa-Gavras’ mind-blowing, Z. Both deal with the triumph of right over wrong, and honesty over corruption, and both are masterful in every sense of the word. All the President’s Men was an absolute treat to watch, and will more than likely find its way into my DVD collection (if not my Blu-Ray collection). Highly, highly recommended!