Based on Woodward and Bernstein's bestselling book and released only two years after Nixon's resignation, "All the President's Men" chronicles the two reporters' investigation of the infamous money trail leading from the burglars' court arraignment and notations in two of their notebooks to White House Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman and to a conspiracy which, as the reporters would discover, went far beyond a simple attempt to plant bugs at the national Democratic headquarters, and was chiefly engineered through the Republican Committee to Re-Elect the President (appropriately acronymed "CReeP"). While the events are somewhat streamlined and not all of the individuals actually involved in the conspiracy are mentioned - wisely so, as even the information that *is* given takes either several viewings of the film or a close reference to the underlying book to be fully digested - the movie faithfully depicts the events as they are described in the two reporters' account.
Woodward and Bernstein were an unlikely match; both regarding their personalities and their respective backgrounds: Woodward an Illinois native, Yale graduate and former naval officer with upper-crust ties, only nine months with the Post when the Watergate story broke; Bernstein a D.C. native and college dropout with liberal leanings, who had worked his way up in the business from age sixteen onwards. Yet, over time they not only came to be friends but actually worked together so closely that their colleagues took to addressing them collectively as "Woodstein." Equally unlikely was their staffing on the Watergate story, as neither of them was a senior journalist with the Washington Post, nor were they on steady assignment with its national desk. Yet, largely due to patronage by the paper's Metro Editor, as well as eventually Executive Editor Ben Bradlee, they were able to pursue their investigation to its very end.
Starring as Bernstein and Woodward are Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford (who had purchased the film rights to the story shortly after the book's publication and is also one of the movie's co-producers). Both actors performed a tremendous amount of research for their roles, which enabled them not only to perfectly portray the two lead characters - and this although Redford in particular has virtually no physical resemblance to Woodward - but also to convey their tenacity in pursuing a story that even their own colleagues at first didn't want to believe, and in whose development they were hampered at every corner. Similarly, Jason Robards, who won a "Best Supporting Actor" Oscar and several other awards for his role as Ben Bradlee, convincingly nails the famous newsman's mix of New England pedigree and tough talk; and Jack Warden, Martin Balsam and Hal Holbrook are equally compelling as Metro Editor Harry Rosenfeld, Managing Editor Howard Simons and Woodward's still-unidentified source "Deep Throat." Outstanding in a cast featuring dozens of actors are further Jane Alexander as bookkeeper and reluctant source Judy Hoback, Ned Beatty as Florida prosecutor Martin Dardis, Stephen Collins as former Haldeman aide and CReeP treasurer Hugh Sloan, Robert Walden as California attorney and "ratf*cking" organizer Donald Segretti and Penny Fuller as Woodward's and Bernstein's colleague Sally Aiken, who uses her personal contacts to provide crucial CReeP insider information. (Plus, watch out for F. Murray Abraham's brief appearance as one of the arresting officers at the Watergate.)
What makes "All the President's Men" so compelling are, of course, first and foremost the true facts of the underlying story; the sheer enormity of a conspiracy constituting nothing less than a full-fledged attack on the electoral process and on the very foundations of the American democracy, and involving the entire U.S. intelligence community and almost all of the Republican establishment, up to and including former President Nixon. Appropriately, the movie is styled in the way of a documentary, resisting all temptations to hype the events and relying entirely on its stellar cast and on the authenticity provided by its D.C. location shots, by the recreation of the Washington Post's newsroom (with numerous props supplied by the paper itself), and by actual TV footage from the era. And although David Shire is credited for his soundtrack contribution, the film's most memorable sounds are not those of his almost non-audible score but the hammering of the reporters' typewriters, of the news ticker announcing the story's final developments, and of the gunshot- and whiplash-enforced pounding of the opening caption. Not surprisingly, the movie also won the Academy Award for Best Sound, in addition to Robards's and those for Best Writing (William Goldman, with input from Carl Bernstein and his former wife Nora Ephron) and Best Art Direction. Why it didn't also win the "Best Movie" award, I will never understand. (Rocky who?!)
"Nothing's riding on this except the First Amendment of the Constitution, the freedom of the press and maybe the future of the country," Ben Bradlee tells Woodward and Bernstein after their investigation has almost faltered over a misunderstanding with two sources regarding Haldeman's involvement, and he adds: "Not that any of that matters. But if you guys f*ck up again, I'm going to get mad ..." They didn't give him reason to. And the rest, as the saying goes, is history - hopefully never to be repeated, anywhere in the world.
It stars Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman as Washington Post reporters, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, and they are good, with excellent support from Jason Robards (Oscar as Best Supporting Actor) playing Post Executive Editor Ben Bradlee, and Jane Alexander as an innocent caught up in the machinations. But what makes the movie work is the Oscar-winning script adapted from the Woodward and Bernstein best seller by that old Hollywood pro, William Goldman (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid 1969, Misery 1990, etc.). What he does so very well, even though we know the outcome, is to establish and maintain the tension as Woodward and Bernstein run all over town chasing leads and misdirections. He accomplishes this by putting just enough varied obstacles in the path of our intrepid reporters, notably the Washington bureaucracy and the understandably cautious senior editors at the Post.
The direction by Alan J. Pakula (Comes a Horseman 1978, Sophie's Choice 1982, etc.) focuses the scenes nicely, keeps the camera where it belongs, and highlights the story with a shadowy Deep Throat (Hal Holbrook), skitterish sources, and a vivid recreation of a top American newspaper at work. I was especially enthralled to see the interactions among the reporters, the editors and the sources. I thought they all looked and sounded authentic, Redford's good looks having nothing to do with the story, which was right, and Hoffman's flair for the intense reigned in, which was necessary. The diffidence of Alexander's character and the soft pushiness of Woodward and Bernstein were tempered just right. Bradlee's stewardship of the story and his ability to take a calculated risk seemed true to life.
Some details that stood out: Redford's hunt and peck typing contrasted with Hoffman's all fingers flying; the talking heads on the strategically placed TVs, reacting (via actual video footage) to the developing story--deny, deny, deny! of course. The thin reporter's spiral notebooks being pulled out and then later flipped through to find a quote. The bright lights of the newsroom looking expansive with all those desks as though there were mirrors on the walls extending an illusion. The seemingly silly tricks to get a source to confirm: just nod your head; I'll count to ten and if you're still on the line... And you know what I liked best? No annoying subplot!
The rather abrupt resolution with the teletype banging out the leads to a sequence of stories that led to President Nixon's resignation had just the right feel to it, especially for those of us who have actually experienced the goosepimply sensation that comes with watching a breaking story come in over the teletype. The quick wrap-up surprised me, but delighted me at the same time.
Bottom line: an excellent movie that wears well, a fine example of some of Hollywood's top professionals at work some thirty years ago. #30
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