If there was a movie that was supposed to be dead at the box office, it was “All The President’s Men.”
A movie about government. A movie about newspapers. A movie about recent history where everyone who would be interested in these subjects already knows the ending.
It made back its $5 million budget in less than a week and ended with a gross of over $70 million. “Rocky” took the Best Picture Oscar that year, but this film won its share.
Robert Redford was the driver of this effort, a drama about the famed Washington Post duo of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein who brought down President Nixon by uncovering the Watergate scandal. Casting himself and Dustin Hoffman, Redford managed to cast a duo with great chemistry and managed to make a film about two gumshoe reporters reading through library book request cards intriguing.
For all the credit Redford gives himself, and deservedly so, director Alan J. Pakula makes this film work.
More than almost everyone, Pakula hit his stride in the “paranoid Watergate” era of the 70s. “Klute” and “The Parallax View,” two thrillers with some twists and turns that became known for their intensity and a “don’t trust anyone” vibe.
Filming a movie about Watergate would be an obvious next step. (Pakula’s resume also includes “Sophie’s Choice,” “The Pelican Brief,” and “Presumed Innocent.”) He makes this film with no action feel like a high-pressure ride with a noir flair. Lots of darkness in this film, and it makes you think there is a spy listening in around every corner.
With the current attacks, justifiable in most cases, of the news media’s bias and “fake news,” I think most viewers today would be shocked at how much editors made these reporters research and verify before printing a story. “Get another source” was the frequent urging. “Still seems thin” would say Ben Bradlee (played by Jason Robards). Today, it seems news stories are published within minutes of their writing.
Redford wasn’t really interested in Watergate details and he was right. This isn’t a documentary. It’s a character film of two fairly opposite reporters who don’t like each other working on the same story every day for months and months. There are several scenes throughout the film with each doing their own research, and actually getting pretty far compared to when they worked together. But by the end, they come together and become a true team.
Don’t worry about politics, R vs. D, and the media. This is a buddy cop film with reporters instead of detectives looking for clues. It’s worth another take.
The Highlight Reel
Don’t miss the scene with Dustin Hoffman trying to get bits of information from a campaign bookkeeper played by Jane Alexander. The scene is played so patiently and the two play off each other so well, I can’t imagine anyone in a modern movie pacing a movie this way. But it’s the best scene in the film, with lighting that makes it look like an interrogation scene.
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