100 Days, 100 Movies: All the President’s Men (1976)
Sort of an appropriate choice for July 4th weekend, right? This film didn’t make the 1998 AFI list but it was #77 on the 2007 list.
All the President’s Men tells part of the (true) story about how two reporters, Woodward and Bernstein from The Washington Post, basically took down the Nixon presidency and unearthed the whole conspiracy tied to the Watergate break-in. It sort of has the structure of a detective story with our two reporters working together and separately to assemble the intricate pieces of the conspiracy puzzle.
“Nobody wants to be connected with a garbage film…What you pray for is this: (1) a movie that people will remember and (2) a movie that people may actually go and see.” ~William Goldman, screenwriter for All the President’s Men from his book Adventures in the Screen Trade.
I’m using this quote to start because I think it pretty much nails what is so great about this movie. All the President’s Men tells the incredible story of the Watergate scandal, the film is entertaining and fast-paced, but it also tells an important story, a story people need to remember, to see, to think about. I watched this film with my mom yesterday. (She lived through Watergate). After the movie was over we spent hours talking about Nixon and Watergate, which spun into a great conversation about politics and leaders and ethics in general. This is a movie people need to see. It still has an important message, it’s still relevant.
On a shallower level, I really, really liked this just as a movie. Great acting, good script, masterful visuals, sharp pacing. A home-run across the board basically.
The two leads were wonderfully cast. The more I see Robert Redford in his prime the more I like him. He has all these scenes on the telephone in this where he’s basically listening to people talk at him and he does the most wonderful facial expressions. Hoffman also puts in a great performance as Bernstein. Flirtatious and sneaky, sharp, determined. The two leads are just amazing. Separately and together.
I also really like the visual style of this film, the way they use Washington and the news room. The great shot at the end where we see Woodward and Bernstein typing furiously while Nixon is sworn in for his second term as President. Great use of juxtaposition, great example of showing not telling. Instead of having a scene where they swear to each other to work until they nail Nixon we just see them doing it, working hard, working together, fighting the good fight.
The pacing in this is also incredible. The movie is almost two and a half hours. There are no car chases, no fight scenes, no explosions. There’s a lot of two guys on the phone, two guys talking to people, two guys writing. And there was maybe only about 5-10 minutes in the whole movie where I thought the pacing was slow. The entire rest of the time I was hooked, riveted. Somehow, the filmmakers managed to make this very cerebral, process-oriented movie into a thriller. And that was sticking basically to the exact truth. I am in awe of how they managed that.
What did I learn from this movie? If you hit the right chord in people, find the right story to tell, you can have two people talking about your movie for days afterward.
From a more practical standpoint, I would say active protagonists. There isn’t really a minute of this film where Woodward and Bernstein aren’t on their feet, planning, thinking, working towards their goal of finding the truth. They never sit back and let things happen to them. They go out and make things happen. And every time they suffer a setback they are right back in the trenches again trying to do better the next time. It’s riveting to watch.
Can I see why this movie has become a classic? Great acting. Great story. Entertaining. Thought-provoking. Um, yeah. I can see why it made the list. ;P
Favorite part(s)? I love, love the scenes where they’re interviewing the people from the Committee to Reelect nixon. These people keep saying they don’t want to talk, ‘please go away’ and yet the two reporters keep working, trying new strategies, getting the truth out of these people one word at a time. They are masters of manipulation and it is really fun to watch them twist themselves into pretzels just to get one more morsel of fact out of these reluctant sources.
Overall rating: ***** (I LOVED it)
Fun bit of trivia: Two of the actors who play editors at The Post were both jurors in 12 Angry Men, one of my very favorite movies and #87 on the 2007 AFI List.)