That Richard Nixon sure did screw up, didn’t he?
Screenplay By: William Goldman
Directed By: Alan J. Pakula
Watergate is the event that shook American life in the 1970’s, yet it’s amazing to look back historically and discover that when it first happened and for a long time afterward Watergate wasn’t even a blip on the radar of most people. It was only through dogged persistence that Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward made Watergate as large as it became, and I think that distinction plays an important role in All The President’s Men. The story and the camera focuses on Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman, drawing you into their very intimate tale. But, all the while sporadic shots of the larger world are mixed in along with media snippets to show the evolution of the story. Watergate is the entire world to Redford and Hoffman but it is only as the story progresses that it becomes just as big to anyone else.
It’s funny to think of All The President’s Men as a great thriller, but that’s exactly what it is. All The President’s Men is a great detective thriller, it’s better at thrilling than just about any movie I have seen where thrill is the goal through a murder mystery or some such concoction. All The President’s Men unfolds in a style that the viewer can easily take in, but it doesn’t give you anything for free. You have to think and make some of the connections for yourself, if you don’t then Redford and Hoffman will leave you in the dust.
All The President’s Men isn’t a movie where the end result is in question, you, me and everyone in between knows exactly how this story will end. The fact that it is so gripping is a testament to the ability of Alan J. Pakula to helm a compelling story and for William Goldman to pen one. I am a big believer in the journey of the story, the end result isn’t as important as much as how you get there is. Don’t get me wrong, the ending has to be good, but you can have absolute knowledge of the ending and if the journey to that end is a good one you will still have undertaken in an enjoyable story.
I think with All The President’s Men it is important to note how historical of an event Watergate was in relation to the ending. If All The President’s Men were a fictional tale the ending would be a letdown, what happens to all these characters, where does Watergate go, how come you aren’t showing these things visually? But, All The President’s Men isn’t a fictional tale, it is a historical tale, and we don’t need to see the visual repercussions of the story, we merely need to read the results and their journalistic efforts are given stock in our eyes.
Three continuous strengths in All The President’s Men are the acting of Hoffman, Redford and Jason Robards. The rest of the cast is great, but those three men loom larger than the rest. Hoffman and Redford have a zeal in their acting, you can buy them as reporters because of the little ticks they add to their characters, the way they react to situations, etc.. Robards is great simply by taking his time. Bradlee could have been a hot headed loudmouth, maybe he was in real life, but Robards plays him larger through restraint. He appears intelligent and you seek his approval just like Bernstein and Woodward do, and that is a sign of an actor that nails his part.
In All The President’s Men word of mouth is power, but not even word of mouth, the typewriter is power. If you want one moment that defines All The President’s Men it is when Bernstein and Woodward use a typewriter to beat surveillance. This ties into the theme of power and that while all the powerful men moved and shook the world, two reporters used the power of the typewriter to truly change the world. All The President’s Men may not shake the world, but it does put up stiff competition as far as thrillers go. I can’t think of a single journalism based story that comes close to All The President’s Men, and very few movie in general that come close. Take in the history, learn the power of the typewriter, but most of all watch All The President’s Men and discover a great story, again.