All the President’s Men (Alan Pakula, 1976)
[originally posted 19Feb2001]
We have met the enemy, and they is more ours than we realized they was. Pakula’s fact-based look at the way Woodward (Robert Redford) and Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) uncovered the story behind the Watergate break-in is a classic piece of filmmaking that’s influenced almost every, if not every, piece of film and television dealing with journalism that’s come since in America. Most, thankfully, are a little more coherent than this, but the confusion factor doesn’t make All the President’s Men any less a film.
Much of what allows All the President’s Men to straddle the line between confusing mush and classic filmmaking is in that ever-present devil, the details. Want an example? The main theme of the film is that words are weapons; the unforgettable opening sequence, in which the typewriter keys strike the paper with seemingly epic force, is the result of mixing whip and shotgun sounds with the actual sounds of typewriter keys. Now that’s attention to detail, folks. As well, Pakula never allows the story to stray from the straight and narrow. Woodward and Bernstein remain the focus throughout, and while some minor characters get enough screen time to be memorable (Jason Robards’ performance as Ben Bradlee garnered him a very well-deserved Best Supporting Actor oscar), we don’t need to know who they all are; their function in the film is solely to either funnel information to, or keep information from getting to, Woodward and Bernstein. We don’t need to know anything else about them. It adds a little kick to know trivial details, such as the guy playing Frank Wills (the security guard who discovers the break-in initially) actually was the late Frank Wills, but it’s not necessary to comprehend the story of what started as a routine newspaper article about a hotel burglary and ended up being a series of articles that won the Pulitzer Prize, changed the face of political reporting in America, and incidentally saved Bob Woodward’s job at the Washington Post. *** ½