All the President’s Men
Directed by Alan J. Paula
Starring: Robert Redford, Dustin Hoffman, Jane Alexander, Hal Holbrook, and Jason Robards
It’s one of the only examples of a film dramatizing a contemporary event, getting it right, and maintaining its relevance long after its release. Hitting theaters only 18 months after the events that it depicts, All the President’s Men captures the pure shock Americans had that such a broad, sinister conspiracy could take place in the United States. Were it made today, the film would be dripping with jaded cynicism, made by filmmakers who grew up seeing decades of institutional fraud and corruption. All the President’s Men is remarkable because it was made for and played to an innocent audience.
The film also stands out for its “cinema verite” approach to its events–All the President’s Men is, according to many film historians, one of the first documentary-drama hybrids. Its obsessively recreated sets, dead-end filled plot developments, and awkwardly spoken dialogue lend credence that the movie’s events depict reality. Numerous journalism and detective movies have copied visual and story cues from All the President’s Men, and the American Film Institute nominated the line “Follow the Money!” as one of cinema’s greatest.
All the President’s Men was nominated for eight Academy Awards, winning Best Supporting Actor for Jason Robards and Best Production Design. It holds a 94% on Rotten Tomatoes, an 84/100 on Metacritic, and a 7.9/10 on IMDb. In 2010, All the President’s Men was inducted into the National Film Registry in the Library of Congress for its historical significance.
In fitting with July’s American independence theme, every movie this month supposedly says…
Upon reaching the end of the movie, however, I’m not sure All the President’s Men actually qualifies–I only recall characters saying “The President” or “President Nixon.”
I’ve watched this two-and-a-half-hour movie as well as done research on its production and legacy, so I’m in too deep now to change course. If reached for contact, I’ll swear All the President’s Men DOES contain the words “Mr. President,” and I’ll deny these proceeding paragraphs ever took place.
…Separately, this movie spawned quite a few conspiracy-thriller clichés.
In 1972, Bob Woodward, a newbie reporter for The Washington Post, is sent to the local courthouse to get basic details about thieves caught breaking into the Watergate Hotel. Oddly, an attorney far above a normal burglar’s pay grade is watching over the proceedings. Then, one of the thieves lists his occupation as a CIA operative. This odd claim prompts Woodward to accidentally kick a political hornets’ nest.
Fascinated by Woodward’s notes is Carl Bernstein, a fellow reporter looking for a big break. Together, they find a series of misappropriated checks and odd communications, all leading back to the treasurer of CREEP (The Committee to Re-elect the President). Unfortunately, Woodward and Bernstein’s scoop is too reliant of hearsay and rumor to be published. The “Woodstien” duo is about to give up when Woodward decides to contact a friend he coincidentally met years ago.
This friend, with deep background information (whom Woodstein’s editor crassly nicknames “Deep Throat”), insists the not only is everything the reporters uncovered true, but the malicious influence of CREEP extends through every U.S. intelligence organization and implicates some of the most powerful executive-branch members in the country! Now obligated to pursue the story, the Woodstien duo must uncover the truth despite opposition from the government, indifference from their colleagues, and doubt from within themselves.
History, of course, is the ultimate spoiler alert in this case, but All the President’s Men reports each twist and turn the investigation takes on its way to the top, revealing the (at the time) most shocking case of corruption in American history.
In 2015, I saw The Big Short in theaters. In the hallway afterwards, too shocked to yet be angry with Wall Street, I turned to a fellow moviegoer and said, “I feel like I just watched something important–like, REALLY important.” The other guy nodded, concerned as well. I imagine this is how audiences felt in 1976 watching the meticulously recreated events of what happened.
Upon researching the Watergate timeline from the initial robbery through the events of Nixon’s retirement and President Gerald Ford’s 1976 election loss, I realized that All the President’s Men‘s greatest feat is creating a followable through line for its viewer. The movie simply documents what happened, fictionalizing matters only to clarify points for viewers or condense storylines into a reasonable cinematic runtime.
Frankly, I’m floored by the accurate-yet-pulse-pounding screenplay, the stoic-yet-innovative direction, and the subtle-yet-magnetic performances. While Robert Redford does his Hollywood-movie-star schtick (effectively, mind you), Hoffman easily slides into Carl Bernstein’s shoes. There’s no glamour from the art department either, letting the audience buy the reality of the unfolding events. This movie ain’t no fairy tale; it celebrates the triumph of hard-working, real-life heroes.
…so, of course, All the President’s Men lost Best Picture to Rocky.
As was the case with Do the Right Thing, this question kinda doesn’t apply: All the President’s Men is required viewing. Don’t worry, the movie has barely aged–it remains utterly enthralling. More so, it takes a complicated series of events and makes it digestible. Given today’s American political climate, All the President’s Men is still front-page news; its quality puts the story above the fold.