All The President's Men

All The President's Men

****1/2

Reviewed by: Stephen Carty

When Washington Post journalists, Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) and Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman), investigate a break in at the Democratic Party Headquarters, they chance upon the biggest story in modern-day journalism. Frantically scrabbling to unravel the mystery of the Watergate burglary, the duo find out that the scandal leads all the way up to the White House.

Choosing to make a movie about one of the biggest stories in modern political history was always going to be a daunting undertaking. As such, director Alan J Pakula and his creative team (including star Redford, who got the real people involved and sourced financing) deserve admiration for telling the tale with minimal compromise. Had they got things even slightly wrong, it could have quickly turned into ‘filmgate’…

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Quite simply, All The President’s Men is a breathtaking motion picture. Made in close collaboration with the actual reporters who broke the story, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, its highly-accurate authenticity and pitch-perfect depiction of journalistic practices has placed it as staple part of journalism courses the world over (indeed, it was part of my Film and Media course). While undoubtedly dry and a little gloomy (the plot requires it to be), it still manages to amuse - more wry smirks than out-loud guffawing - with rewarding touches for those paying attention. So, who exactly is this Charles Colson?

It's worth pointing out early on that many viewers will find All The President’s Men a tough watch. Not user-friendly or ‘Hollywood’ by any means, this isn’t one for the MTV generation and is, in many ways, the ‘Anti-Tarantino’, as any superfluous material has been stripped away. There are certainly no discussions between Redford and Hoffman as to what a Quarter Pounder is called in France.

However, for the more patient and intelligent viewer willing to give it a chance or for those interested in the topic at hand, this is cinematic gold-dust. Intricately talky, well-paced and full of a truly impressive detail, All The President’s Men might have an ending that the whole world knows, but Pakula still manages to generate an indisputable sense of tension and paranoia. By continually shooting our heroes beside huge buildings or big spaces (such as a pan-up in the library of Congress) we feel the enormity of their task every flare-trousered step of the way.

In its portrayal of journalism, All The President’s Men is near-flawless. With a virtually verbatim reconstruction and a detail that’s almost impossible to fully appreciate first time round, Pakula excels at showing the ‘boring’ side of reporting – usually ignored in movies – with the routine and workmanlike nature of these bottom-rung hacks. Indeed, in a brave gamble that paid off, the coolest scenes are those where “Woodstein” are working the phones, scribbling down notes, hassling witnesses, chasing leads, pursuing dead ends, typing with index fingers (if you’re Redford) and badgering anybody involved.

As for Redford and Hoffman, they are equally impressive. Effectively feeding off each other, the duo memorised each other’s lines so as to constantly interrupt one another and convincingly render two journalists whose only common ground was their passion for the story. Though we find out almost nothing about their out-of-work lives, Redford’s cord-loving waspy Republican and Hoffman’s constantly-smoking radical liberal work, as their strongly contrasting personalities - “Is there any place you don’t smoke?” - annoy the hell out of each other.

While there are fantastic supporting performances all round - Jack Warden, Martin Balsam, Hal Halbrook, Jane Alexander and Ned Beatty to name a few – it is Jason Robards’ charismatic Post editor Ben Bradlee who sticks in our minds. Winning one of the picture’s four Oscars he shows how to make maximum impact with minimal screen time and dishes out lines like: “Nothing's riding on this except the, uh, first amendment to the Constitution, freedom of the press, and maybe the future of the country. Not that any of that matters, but if you guys fuck up again, I'm going to get mad.”

Overall, All The President’s Men is a classic that stands the test of time. Thought-provoking, deliberate and powerful (although the ending is a bit flat) it is a landmark movie that deserves a place on your DVD shelf. Come on, surely you don’t need every series of Family Guy?

Reviewed on: 18 Nov 2008
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All The President's Men packshot
Story of the Watergate scandal from the perspective of the reporters who broke the story.
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Director: Alan J Pakula

Writer: William Goldman, based on the book by Carl Bernstein, Bob Woodward

Starring: Dustin Hoffman, Robert Redford, Jack Warden, Martin Balsam, Hal Holbrook, Jason Robards, Jane Alexander, Meredith Baxter, Ned Beatty, Stephen Collins

Year: 1976

Runtime: 138 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US

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