Director: Alan J. Pakula
Starring: Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman
It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that All the President’s Men is a movie more preoccupied with the procedural side of the Watergate scandal than digging into any palpable emotional value.
After all, we don’t get much insight into the personal lives of Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein as they investigate the link between a break-in at the Watergate Hotel and the presidency of Richard Nixon.
Instead, we see them go through the painstaking and frustrating process of piecing their story together.
We see the roadblocks they encounter as it feels as if the entire world around them is rejecting any effort to uncover the truth.
We feel the paranoia that grips them as they slowly uncover how deep-rooted this conspiracy is.
It is in those moments where Alan J Pakula’s political thriller reveals its true intent and true brilliance.
As opposed to recounting a clichéd portrait of Woodward and Bernstein as individuals, it broadens its focus to try and capture the mood of an entire nation as the events of Watergate and its aftermath transpired.
All the President’s Men is a highly atmospheric and utterly involving piece of political filmmaking.
All The President’s Men Is Political Filmmaking at its finest
Rather than opting for big cathartic moments in which the protagonists solve the central mystery, they spend a majority of the movie’s runtime stumbling in the dark, never fully recognising what exactly they have begun to uncover.
Only in the final few minutes do we truly get a sense of the conspiracy’s far-reaching implications, but that is only a view we are granted in hindsight.
As the investigation is going on we are placed directly in Woodward and Bernstein’s point of view, made to feel the same sense of futility that they do as each obstacle threatens to derail their investigation.
No other movie captures the long slog of journalism as well as Pakula’s, drawing attention to the dozens of dead ends and false steps the two reporters take.
If anything the film might commit to its fondness for details at the expense of clear storytelling.
It is hard not to watch it and feel a little overwhelmed by the number of names, dates and organisations being presented.
But perhaps that is another instance of William Goldman’s screenplay presenting an authentic view of investigative journalism, marvelling at the reporter’s abilities to make sense of all these conflicting accounts.
Goldman’s screenplay is undoubtedly an extensively researched presentation of the road to uncovering Watergate.
However, there was always the risk of this torrent of information becoming repetitive and undecipherable.
That is where Pakula’s direction becomes essential.
Alan J. Pakula Is A Terrific Director
Having helmed a number of critically acclaimed thrillers in the form of Klute and The Parallax View, Pakula adopts a very similar approach to translating Woodward and Bernstein’s story for the big screen.
The three thrillers have in fact been dubbed by some as Pakula’s Paranoia Trilogy.
First and foremost Pakula succeeds in making Goldman’s dialogue-driven script feel taut and well-paced.
It builds momentum through conversation and utilises small visual cues to bring attention to specific details of the investigation as they arise.
The way the camera frames the two reporters manages to find tension in the simple act of walking over to a desk.
But the finest framing devices in the movie come from Pakula’s tendency to zoom out and view Woodward and Bernstein from afar.
It these wide angles that elicit a sense of paranoia, as if they’re being watched by some omnipresent entity.
Whether or not there is an immediate threat to them, the idea of them being observed from a distance is an unsettling idea and plays into the creeping idea that the very foundations of their country can no longer be trusted.
It is worth noting that the film’s DP Gordon Willis also served as cinematographer for Pakula’s previous two entries in his paranoia trilogy (also taking a break in between to shoot two little known movies called The Godfather and The Godfather Part 2).
Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman are perfection
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It’s easy to see how well defined their ability to create tension through framing was as their method of evoking suspense feels so brilliantly effortless.
Another aspect that feels effortless is how capably Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman sink into the two lead roles.
They both arrive as two fully formed portraits of world-weary journalists who know their jobs profession inside and out.
They navigate the world of doors slamming and uncooperative witnesses with a reaction that feels instinctive for how many times it must have happened.
But the ease with which Redford and Hoffman handle these performances once again makes you wonder, why don’t we get an insight into their personal lives?
The answer is that I think All the President’s Men was aiming for a broader emotional portrayal than just two reporters.
Pakula sought to capture the atmosphere of America as a whole in reaction to the Watergate scandal.
The creeping fear of government, paranoia that anyone could be watching and the struggle in discovering the truth.
What do you make of this retrospective review of All the President’s Men?
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