Lets Talk About… ‘All the President’s Men’ (1976)

Film #43 in FilmExodus’ AFI 100 Movies

Every week FilmExodus does a review/analysis of a different cinematic masterpiece from AFI’s 100 Movies 2007 updated list. For a complete overview and how you can participate, click here.

Today we will be discussing  All the President’s Men.

Directed by – Alan Pakula

Screenplay by – William Goldman

Based on – The book of the same name by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein

When I chose my first two movies for this endeavor, I picked two movies I was familiar with but I wanted to go outside of my comfort zone with this movie choice.

If you gleaned anything from my MASH review, it is my love of history.  One constant in any history class in America, be it middle school or high school, is the impact presidents have in the course of American history. Great men have been elected president and although their accomplishments are always bandied about- there are some that were dogged by dark events during their term in office: Lincoln and the Civil War, FDR and World War II, LBJ and Vietnam, and today’s focus – Richard Nixon and Watergate.

All the President’s Men stars Dustin Hoffman as Carl Bernstein and Robert Redford as Bob Woodward, with Jack Warden, Martin Balsam, and Jason Robards rounding out the principal cast.

The film opens in June 1972 with Woodward investigating a burglary at the Watergate. Woodward is at the courthouse during the arraignment of the burglars when he overhears that 2 of the men worked for the Anti-Communist Association and the CIA.  This odd information sets Woodward on a path that will involve fellow reporter Bernstein as the two begin to track down information on the crime and those involved.  At this point in their journalistic careers, Woodward had been working for the Washington Post for only 9 months, while Bernstein was very close to being fired from the paper at one point. Although the story should have been handed to more experienced journalists, Woodward and Bernstein’s boss gives them the story because he can see how hungry they are for a chance to prove themselves.

As Woodward and Bernstein begin their investigation and research, every lead they chase ends in a dead end. Woodward reaches out to a background informant he used on a story about George McGovern but the anonymous source tells Bob he can’t help this time around. The next morning, a letter in Bob’s New York Times spells out the best way to contact the source and vice versa. Bob meets “Deep Throat” (Hal Holbrook) in a parking garage late one night. Bob tells “Deep Throat” all the information he has so far and “Deep Throat” tells Bob to “follow the money”. This tidbit leads Woodward and Bernstein to find a $25,000 check paid out to one of the burglars cut from Nixon’s reelection campaign.

The duo’s next lead is a list of all the volunteers working on the Nixon reelection campaign.  They begin to go door to door to speak to those on the list, but each person either slams the door in their faces or they get a nugget of information, just before their interview is cut short because “they are being watched”.  Knowing that they are ruffling feathers, they continue their search for answers unabated, sometimes having to come up with trick questions in order to separate fact and fiction.

As Woodward and Bernstein get closer and closer to the truth, they find out how deep the mystery stretches through Washington D.C. and that ever minute they spend on this story, their lives and their livelihood at the paper are in danger.

I like All the President’s Men because of the nods to spy movies and the subtle use of thrills and paranoia that kept me on the edge of my seat.  Redford and Hoffman are a great pair of actors that complement each other well. The guest stars in this movie are some of the best of 1970s Hollywood.  I think my two favorite parts of this movie filmmaking wise are the tracking shot used in the library scene early in the movie and the way “Deep Throat” is presented during the clandestine meetings in the parking garage.

I don’t want to stand on a soapbox during any of my reviews but I will say this: All the President’s Men is prevalent more now than ever before.  There’s a scene in the film where the Washington Post is described as “shabby journalism”.  Woodward and Bernstein were going to resign if they were wrong or mislead readers in anyway.

The current President’s number one enemy today is the news media.  The POTUS will do anything he can to discredit reporters; he brands any truthful assessment on his character or his political decisions as “fake news”. We must commend the men and women in journalism who work hard to uncover the truth, especially in today’s day and age where the President’s tweets can be deleted and when the POTUS is called out for saying something and then backtracking and using the “I never said that” retort.

I’ll leave you with this quote by Jason Robards who played Ben Bradlee, executive editor of The Washington Post:

You know the results of the latest Gallup Poll? Half the country never even heard of the word Watergate. Nobody gives a shit. You guys are probably pretty tired, right? Well, you should be. Go on home, get a nice hot bath. Rest up… 15 minutes. Then get your asses back in gear. We’re under a lot of pressure, you know, and you put us there. 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. Goodnight.”