Bucket List Movie #469: All the President's Men (1976)
In practically every review I've read for today's BLM, 1976's All the President's Men, the term "superheroes" is most frequently used to describe journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein who, with the aid of that great enigma "Deep Throat", exposed the cover-up of the Watergate break-in in 1972. I have no wish to debate that, for if this film is any indication, Woodward and Bernstein burned gallons of the midnight oil and put their hides on the line to get to the bottom of one of the most infamous scandals of the last 50 years.
All the President's Men tells a very straightforward story, and doesn't appear to embellish too heavily. Based on the book of the same name (written by Woodward and Bernstein themselves), All the President's Men wastes no time, as it opens with the break-in at the Watergate hotel, and Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) is asked to cover the story. He is a relative newbie at the paper, but he knows his stuff, feverishly making calls and taking notes (in a nice, realistic touch, we see him doodling while on hold). He is surprised to learn that Watergate wasn't a run-of-the-mill burglary, but that the men involved have ties to the CIA and-gasp!- President Nixon. Undeniably newsworthy, but any people connected to Watergate are either unavailable or won't talk. Sensing that this story is too big to handle alone, the Washington Post's editor, Ben Bradlee (Jason Robards) has fellow reporter Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) assist Woodward. What follows are near-misses, nervous reveals by go-betweens, ominous phone calls and notes, and the anonymous source known only as "Deep Throat", who will only meet them in a parking garage at night. The clock is ticking, the truth is harder to find than a grain of sugar in the Sahara, but Woodward and Bernstein persevere, determined to get their story out in print and Tricky Dick out of the White House (okay, that last one wasn't their goal, but it's fun to think it was).
I admire how All the President's Men is political, but doesn't feel like it has a political agenda. It's about journalistic integrity, teamwork, and everyday detective skills that are utilized by more professions than you realize. It shows both the exciting aspects of journalism (getting a source to finally trust you) and the boring side (endless phone calls that usually go nowhere). I like to think journalists love this movie, not only for its accurate portrayal of the newspaper world, but because Woodward and Bernstein were instrumental in bringing Nixon down.
I also enjoyed the chemistry between Redford and Hoffman (who looks uncannily like the real Bernstein). Yes, they are different, Woodward being more reserved and logical, while Bernstein is more quick-tempered and eager to dirty his hands, but it never feels like a cliched "buddy" film. Their personalities are not completely oil and water, so their working relationship feels organic and relatable. The movie isn't afraid to show what a stressful grind journalism can be: Woodward and Bernstein pour over notes, discuss their strategies, deal with snappish or flaky sources, and wearily live on fast food.
I'll admit the Deep Throat scenes felt a little contrived, as we see his face clearly (makes me wonder if Hal Holbrook got recognized for the wrong reasons), and it feels too cinematic for its own good. I had to roll my eyes when, at one point, Woodward briefly turns his back, and when he turns back around, Deep Throat has vanished without a trace! Come on, movie, you were doing a commendable job being realistic, but you actually felt the need to use that dusty old B-movie trope? Unless Deep Throat was actually a ghost, his footsteps would have surely made noise on the cement floor of a cavernous, half-empty parking lot.
Thankfully, that's too minor a quibble to diminish the quiet power of All the President's Men. It's a brainy, fast-paced, and will keep you invested from beginning to end. Like my favorite movie about journalism, Shattered Glass, it's about the triumph of truth. The most rewarding scene (and an excellent bit of cinematography) is toward the end, a TV in the front showing Nixon's reelection ceremony, and the blurry figure of Woodward behind the TV, typing up the finishing touches of the story. The jig is definitely up.