It’s not revealing too much to say that All The President’s Men begins and ends with loud typewriters throwing letters onto paper. The audio mix and imagery really couldn’t be more appropriate to being and end a movie all about the power of the written word and, equally, the power of tenacious, hungry investigative journalists who can sense a great story even as they find themselves unsure of just what they have on their hands.
Based on the book by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein (played in the movie by Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman, respectively), All The President’s Men is, as so many people already know, all about the Watergate scandal and just how it ended up being uncovered. It’s easy to lose all perspective on this scandal, as much as people love to hate Nixon I’d have to say that many world leaders have done much worse before and since, but it’s also important to remember just how big it all was when you consider just what it represented to a country and a world already going through the turbulent, and often sour, years of the early 1970s. People were already becoming cynical and paranoid – Watergate proved that just because you were being paranoid that didn’t mean that “they” weren’t out to get you. It showed a horrid corruption hiding behind a mask of democracy. And I think that it’s fair to say that it gave many people a harsh wake-up call that may never be forgotten over the years, especially as political scandals become more commonplace with each generation and each level of easy access to information and news.
But I digress. I am not a renowned historian, I am no expert in the field of politics, I don’t even know enough about the details of the Watergate scandal to give an overview of everything that happened (though I know that illegal activities were ordered and that a lot of money was used inappropriately). What I do know is that the events reverberated around the world and that most of the details came to light thanks to the work done by Woodward and Bernstein in a world that still had manual typewriters, no commonplace internet to use and a hell of a lot going against them.
Fortunately, they also had the support of Harry Rosenfeld (played by Jack Warden), Ben Bradlee (Jason Robards) and even a mysterious informant known simply as Deep Throat (Hal Holbrook).
Great direction from Alan J. Pakula, great acting from everyone involved and a dense but coherent screenplay from William Goldman (who had, arguably, the hardest task of everyone involved in packing so much information into each sequence and keeping things entertaining at the same time) all add up to quite an astonishing piece of cinema, a drama that is full of tension and intrigue even during scenes which feature nothing more than probing phone calls and copious, furiously scribbled, notes on anything that can be written on.
Sadly, the events and timescale depicted end up leaving the movie feeling slightly fractured and the revelations losing some of their impact (though this may well be due to what we know nowadays as much as it is due to the execution of the material onscreen) but this is still essential viewing for anyone wanting to celebrate good deeds that can be done by journalists who actually work on stories with more to them than easy targets to blame or juicy, celebrity gossip.
DIRECTOR: ALAN J. PAKULA
WRITER: WILLIAM GOLDMAN (BASED ON THE BOOK BY BOB WOODWARD AND CARL BERNSTEIN)
STARS: ROBERT REDFORD, DUSTIN HOFFMAN, JACK WARDEN, JASON ROBARDS, MARTIN BALSAM, HAL HOLBROOK
RUNTIME: 138 MINS APPROX