ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN, , 1976
Reporters Woodward and Bernstein uncover the details of the Watergate scandal that leads to President Nixon's resignation.
WON 4 OSCARS Ė Supporting Actor (Jason Robards), Art Direction, Screenplay, Sound
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It is not very often that we get films that are made about something that has happened in recent history. Considering how good the small number of examples in this genre are, itís really a shame it hasnít happened more often. The few instances that come to mind are: The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) about World War II veterans returning from war, United 93 (2006), a film that recounted the events of 9/11 and All the Presidentís Men (1976) about the Watergate scandal that brought down President Nixon.
What makes movies like this often so great is the lack of information an audience needs to understand them. Many times, it seems that historical movies assume that the audience knows nothing of what actually happened, so they exaggerate and fudge details, and choose to spell out even the most basic of facts. Also, in these movies, characters often seem to be from the future, where they make veiled comments about something that is going to happen; you can almost feel the writer winking at the audience. In a movie made only a few years after true events, however, the screenwriter does not have the luxury of knowing what will happen in the future; they can only deal with what actually happened, and are so much the better for it.
All the Presidentís Men is based on the book of the same name by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, two young reporters who ran with a little known, and little acknowledged, story about five men breaking into the Democratic headquarters in the Watergate Hotel in June of 1972. A little over two years later, their audacity and perseverance eventually caused the only resignation of a President in United States history. The book was published in 1974 and the film was adapted in 1976.
One obvious downfall to making a movie about something so recent is that, since the audience already knows the ending, how do the filmmakers create a feeling of suspense? Because this is a movie about an event that happened only a few years before, the question, ďWill they get their story?Ē becomes, ďHow did they do it?Ē Director Alan J. Pakula and writer William Goldman, who won an Oscar for his screenplay, create tension by making the movie extremely realistic, almost to the point of exhaustion. There are endless phone calls, hours spent sitting and waiting around in reception areas, the reporters doing anything they can to get someone to talk and writing it on any piece of paper they can find. The film works because the audience goes on this journey with these two men; this is an adventure that, more often than not, feels utterly hopeless and impossible. Yet, somehow, it is that feeling of frustration that allows the audience to bond with them. As the main characters experience their doubts, those watching are feeling the same way, despite all they know about what will ultimately happen. These characters become relatable through their failures and frustrations, which are felt just as deeply by the audience
In all honestly, this should be a boring movie. Itís a lot of men in suits sitting around and talking. But the directing and the editing, both Academy Award nominated, give the film an energy and a sense of urgency that never lets up. It almost feels like there should be a clock in the corner, counting down to some unknown endgame. Consider a scene where Woodward, played by Robert Redford, is meeting his anonymous source, Deep Throat, in a dark parking garage. They are talking and then, suddenly, a car starts off screen and immediately you freeze. Who was in that car? Were they followed? The suspense immediately grabs you and makes you forget what you already know. Bob Woodward was not killed during the Watergate investigation and yet, in that moment, we fear for his life.
The casting of Redford as Woodward and Dustin Hoffman as Carl Bernstein was perfect, not only because they look like the real reporters, but also because they perfectly convey the necessary tenacity and aggravation that comes with the job they have set out to do. They are equally matched by Jason Robards, who won an Oscar for playing their real-life Washington Post editor, Ben Bradlee. These are three great actors doing some of their best work, and a large part of the success of the film relies on their ability make the film as realistic as possible.
All the Presidentís Men belongs in a subgenre of political thrillers from the 1970s, all of which were released during or right after the Watergate scandal and whose plots all revolved around a lone man unraveling a government plot or political scandal. Other films include The Parallax View, also directed by Pakula, Three Days of the Condor and, more recently, State of Play, a film that owes a lot to All the Presidentís Men. In the end, though, All the Presidentís Men remains the best of them all, simply because it actually happened, and truth will always be more fascinating than fiction.
ALL THE PRESIDENTS MEN