All the films from all the editions, including those subsequently removed, presently totalling 1167. An easy way of seeing how…
All the President's Men
At times it looked like it might cost them their jobs, their reputations, and maybe even their lives.
In the run-up to the 1972 elections, Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward covers what seems to be a minor break-in at the Democratic Party National headquarters. He is surprised to find top lawyers already on the defense case, and the discovery of names and addresses of Republican fund organizers on the accused further arouses his suspicions. The editor of the Post is prepared to run with the story and assigns Woodward and Carl Bernstein to it. They find the trail leading higher and higher in the Republican Party, and eventually into the White House itself.
All the President's Men is primarily a staggering display of a perfectly paranoid craftsman. Alan J. Pakula pulls tensity and fascinations out from an otherwise excruciating process - investigative journalism. He observes facts, meticulous dates, times and names, closer than facile characters or broadly stroked stakes. Yet so closely watched is each victory, processed step and intensity of two men's integrity in the face of uncovering a web of mystery that it is impossible to turn away. As each aspect of a seemingly simple burglary piece thickens into political intrigue, it's purely gripping.
The murky, shadowy and paranoid city scapes of Washington brighten the meticulous details of mapping out a potential giant-ranged political corruption case. Most will know the outcome,…
Allow me a moment of nerdery.
Back in the days when Empire magazine was good and I used to buy it, I used to pretty often snip bits out of their magazines and stick them on my wall. Usually they were just ads for films or maybe the occasional picture of Julia Ormond, Cameron Diaz or Winona Ryder. But sometimes I would snip out their Classic Scene section.
This was basically just the screenplay version of a classic scene from a great movie from years gone by. One of the ones I took out was a scene from All The President's Men, a film I had only just seen and loved a few months before. It was this scene:-
This is perhaps one of the best procedural films ever made and what I respect about it is that it approaches its subject matter without frills and added fictional distractors to spice up the story. It sticks to the task at hand and, much like the journalists featuring in the story, it is intent on presenting the account as close to the truth as possible.
Alan J. Pakula seems to understand one thing very well here and that is that if you want to tell a story as intricate as this one, you have to make sure that the audience will listen to those telling it. He does that brilliantly by allowing for a lot of dialogue, not forcing himself…
I remember, during waning of the nineteen sixties, and the waxing of the seventies, that my American Aunt and Uncle, Republicans both, would refer to their leader as ‘Tricky Dick’.
Aside from my Aunt and Uncle, news of the Watergate scandal flowed across the border to my teenage self via Walter Cronkite, Harry Reasoner, and John Chancellor. While I wasn’t glued to the TV, it somehow was an interesting soap opera taking place south of the border. Like any news story, I expected it to die down … but it didn’t. I remember being shocked at how, at the endgame, it moved so quickly, and that Nixon resigned.
Despite seeing the real story unfold in real-time on TV, I remember…
Pakula at his paranoid peak crafts a sharp, lean aggressive film that builds tremendous anxiety and tension regardless of whether you know the facts of Watergate or not. An all-star cast delivers from both leads to the smallest role. Fantastic camera work from Gordon Willis, and inspired editing from Robert Wolfe create iconic moments in one of the best films ever made about journalism or American history.
Amazing what you can get away with when the subject is so recent and momentous that a general audience can be trusted to respond to minutiae. Zodiac actually seems concise by comparison (it also has a killer to cut away to for a while, whereas this is 100% investigation after the break-in), and Pakula continually makes choices that would be considered daft in almost any other Hollywood context: introducing his protagonists with zero fanfare, as if they were bit players; training the camera on notes and doodles in order to foreground a slow accumulation of bewildering detail; letting actors shout at each other over the sound of an airplane passing overhead, when neither the plane nor the shouting has…
Welp. Gotta put that one on the favorites list. Storytelling perfection.
I do get irritated when characters only refer to other characters by their surnames with the film offering no visual reference for who's who. It's something you'd do in a book but not a film. In a book your focus is lexical but in a film your focus is visual.
Thankfully the photography, blocking and direction of All The President's Men is enough to keep you invested through its run time. It's easy to see how influential this film was for director David Fincher since so many cues have been taken from it (the overhead aeroplane causing the characters to shout/the music in the nightclub in The Social Network, and practically all scenes in Zodiac). It's an extremely well made film that I wish took a more visual approach to its exposition, but that's just because I never pick up on names...
Oh man, this is what I want from a conspiracy thriller. Competent people doing their jobs. Sure there’s intrigue, a threat of violence, blah blah. But really, this film is mostly concerned with the day-to-day mechanics of being a reporter. I understand how some people might find that boring, but to me it’s solid gold. The plot is complicated enough to give the quest urgency and to suggest the labyrinthine conspiracy behind Watergate, but it never devolves into JFK level of absurdity. Both Hoffman and Redford resist the urge to get flashy; I totally bought them as a pair of reporters. The supporting players at the paper are good, but many of the sources blur together. It’s kinetic, pulsating storytelling, and Goldman wisely refrains from giving either reporter any backstory or trying to add in a B plot. (Hoffman’s daughter is a Nixon staffer or some nonsense like that.)
Today I am fairly jaded and cynical when it comes to the media in the United States.
It is always to watch a movie that shows what the power of the media in American journalism once was and could be again.
My journalism teacher in high school showed us this film. He said if we weren't ready to do what we see Woodstein doing in this film to never be a journalist.
“All these neat, little houses and all these nice little streets. It's hard to believe that something's wrong with some of these little houses.”
"No, it isn't."
I'm not sure when it was that even the "realistic" dramas lost the realism of sitting in a room as competent people competently complete technical tasks, but I miss it. Thankfully, films like this one are just sitting there, waiting for re-watches. The ultimate "process" film, and a confluence of filmmakers and actors all at their heights.
(This is the film Zero Dark Thirty wishes it had been.)
Every film that has ever been nominated for an Academy Award in any category. Enjoy!