Alan Pakula’s All The President’s Men is set in 1972, around the events of the Watergate scandal. The Democratic Party headquarters has been burglarized, and famous reporters Woodward and Bernstein are on the case for the Washington post. They have to wade through waters of government secrecies, to reach their investigation all the way to the White House. Robert Redford plays Woodward well off of Dustin Hoffman’s portrayal of Bernstein.
Redford effectively uses minimalist expressions to convey the sense of an honest reporter observing the facts, while Hoffman seems comfortable in the skin of a charming, energized journalist, that is true to the integrity of his calling, despite his tendency to ruffle feathers—as in one of the opening sequences, where he plucks Redford’s copy up without permission, to give it some polished touches.
Redford reacts defensively, and Hoffman presses with his side of the disagreement—but ultimately, both convey amiable personalities that are on the overall balanced and fair examples of honest, stubborn and incorruptible journalists from America’s past. Redford and Hoffman unravel the facts that result in Nixon’s resignation, in a tense, constant train of dialog and drama, that draws the audience forward, quickly and steadily, toward inevitable events of political disgrace.
Beside being a gripping and well-paced piece of dramatic cinema, however, President’s Men also reinforces its authenticity as a representation of the workings of journalism, through its own correct correlations to the facts of one of the greatest scandals in American politics. Even though the movie acts as a sensational thriller of investigative reporting, it also stands as a unique copy of trustworthy investigation itself, staying so close to the facts. As John Berkowitz notes in his article All The President’s Men: This scandal is widely renown and remembered by historians and people who lived through it.
What’s so captivating, though, is Pakula revealing a behind-the-scenes look at how the story broke, as one clue after another was uncovered. From the first anomaly, and traveling further down the rabbit hole, we are so engaged that we can’t look away. So, indeed, the film is a work of art, and not just a act-by-act mirror of real-life events, but also, it can be seen that, just as the narrative unfolds like an onion, and rolls out ever faster as the plot progresses—also, the through-lines go in circles, as the reporters chase several leads at once, and the true story details are chronicled in a faithfulness to repetitive investigation..
In his 1976 review, Roger Ebert notes: For all of its technical skill, the movie essentially shows us the same journalistic process several times as it leads closer and closer to an end we already know. The film is long, and would be dull if it weren’t for the wizardry of Pakula, his actors, and technicians. What saves it isn’t the power of narrative, but the success of technique. Still, considering the compromises that could have been made, considering the phony “newspaper movie” this could have been, maybe that’s almost enough.
(Ebert) So, while the action mounts in ever-rising tension and even greater consequences of revelation, the story also takes time to recount the details of what really happened in a way that also pushes the piece past being just a virtuoso of cinematic excellence, into the realm of being a half-documentary, where we are left with a serious look back on a significant period in the politics of America, where justice would rain down, and powerful people would fall.
It is true, for instance, of course, that one of
Ebert suggests that the film suffers from its sticking to the true story too much, but regardless of the aesthetic interpretation of the way the movie was made, it must at least be conceded that the melding of history and storytelling creates a unique fusion, where in some senses the best of both worlds can be explored—while some restraints of narrative execution might be acknowledged.
Most of the details in the film vacillate between uncovering the truth, and chasing down false leads, all toward the inevitable denouement of the Watergate scandal—creating a great tension in the audience. Indeed, almost all of the highlights of interest, including the illegal intelligence gathering, and the in-depth expose of political corruption—were all true elements of this period in history–for little poetic license was required to embellish the work.
The facts as they happened, embedded in the cinematic experience, seem a natural fit for informative entertainment. The true force and character of the work stems from its journalistic feel, which in turn, I feel, arises from it being mired in the medium of the very subject matter to which it referred. In other words, the film often acts as more of a documentary than a movie at times, while at other moments you feel as if you are caught up in the resolution of a climax or suspenseful scenario that only true cinematic excellence can deliver.
In this sense then, I would disagree with Ebert’s assessment that the film suffers from its faithfulness to the standards of journalism, but rather it benefits from this homogeneity, and in turn allows the viewer to be drawn even further into the events—being more trusting in their verisimilitude–and therefore more committed to the outcome of the story. The audience’s investment in the piece is heightened by the way the film breaks down the plot at times, to allow for dead-end leads and frustrating sources to be explored.
The way that Redford and Hoffman seem to be going in circles in some scenes, or to be standing too still in one of the political storms of the century, lends to the believability of the drama–and therefore our attention to how it all plays out. References Berkowitz, John. (2008). All The President’s Men. [online]. Available:http://thecelebritycafe. com/movies/full_review/12666. html Ebert, Roger. (1976). All The President’s Men. [online]. Available:http://rogerebert. suntimes. com/apps/pbcs. dll/article? AID=/19760101/REVIEWS/601010301/1023