This month’s Blind Spot is a ‘hit two birds with one stone’ type of a thing in that it’s part of the conspiracy movies I’ve been bingeing on in anticipation of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. It’s something I’ve been wanting to see for ages, glad I finally got around to it.
I wasn’t even born yet when the scandal happened in 1972, starting with a break-in at the Democratic National Committee (DNC) headquarters at the Watergate office complex in D.C. I’ve seen Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein on TV over the years and I think I may have known they’re the journalists who first uncovered the scandal that led to President Nixon’s resignation, but I never realized just how they got there.
It’s a testament to Alan J. Pakula‘s shrewd direction and Robert Redford & Dustin Hoffman‘s excellent performances that this film remains as gripping as ever, even watched for the first time 38 years after its release. It’s the quintessential political conspiracy drama that earns its ‘true classic’ label, it currently sits at #77 on AFI’s 100 Greatest Films list. I actually watched this film just a day after Pakula’s other conspiracy movie made just two years earlier, The Parallax View, but I enjoyed this one a whole lot more. Obviously I already know that Woodward and Bernstein survived the whole ordeal, but that fact in no way lessens the suspense of the film. It’s perhaps the best film about investigative journalism, and no doubt it’s the film shown in every journalism class in America. Believe it or not, I actually wanted to be a journalist when I first came to the States, so I might’ve seen some clips of this in my Broadcast Journalism class in college.
I was completely engrossed in the story, but not only in terms of the scandal itself, but in the realistic depiction of how the journalists work on their story, as a lot of the film take place within The Washington Post. There’s a scene where the veteran Bernstein started making revisions of Woodward’s drafts without first consulting him. “I don’t mind that you did it,” Woodward said, “I just mind how you did it.” Clearly they didn’t get off on the right foot, but they soon bonded over their tenacity to get to the bottom of this story. There’s a nice rapport between the two actors that worked well here. Clearly the two reporters are such workaholics and became so consumed with the story. I’d think that real journalists have a bit of that obsessive streak in them when they’re following the trail of a story, especially something as important as this one. Little did they know where the story would lead, as the trail just kept getting higher up the chain of the Republican Party and eventually all the way to the White House!
All the dialog between Woodward & Bernstein and the editors, played by Jack Warden and Jason Robards are quite fascinating, as it shows how risky it was to break a story like this. Amongst the supporting cast, Robards was particularly memorable as Benjamin Bradlee, the then executive editor at the Post. He’s very convincing as a seasoned journalist and has the gravitas required for the role. The scenes in a parking garage where Woodward held his secret meet-up with Deep Throat (a pseudonym the journalists give to the secret informant) is rife with tension, handled brilliantly in an eerie, atmospheric way. Hal Holbrook is perfectly effective in his brief appearance, adding so much to his character and making it practically iconic. “Follow the money,” he says, in one of the most memorable quotes in William Goldman‘s Oscar-winning screenplay.
The scenes where Bernstein coerced his sources to talk are particularly intriguing, especially the one with the book keeper of Committee to Re-elect the President (with an appropriate acronym of CREEP). Jane Alexander was nominated for Best Actress in a Supporting Role and I agree that’s quite a fantastic performance. She only had about 8-minute screen time in the entire film, about the same number of minutes Dame Judi Dench appeared in her Oscar-nominated turn in Shakespeare in Love. Truly, there’s really not a boring moment here even during the most seemingly mundane stuff like typing or people talking on the phone. There’s a six-minute continuous tracking shot of Redford being on the phone, according to IMDb trivia, DP Gordon Willis did that in one take!
I’m surprised Willis was not nominated for an Oscar for his work here, though later on he received an Honorary Academy Award in 2010. I love how he used a variety of creative shots, such as the one where the two reporters were doing meticulous research at the Library of Congress. The camera shot them from above, starting with a close up of their hands sifting through a mountain of library slips and it slowly pulls away, accompanied by the sound of rustling paper and very subtle background music. No words are spoken but it’s a powerful scene. I found this wonderful Mise-en-scène article on this exact scene where the author astutely observed that … “The scene symbolically represents the story of the film, that of two men against an entire administration. It expresses the immensity of the task that lay ahead for the reporters, not just in searching through library cards, but in revealing the truth behind the misdeeds of the administration.”
I love the attention to details of this film, the clothes, the sets, and all the details within The Post headquarter. Apparently the design department of the film even made a replica of the out of date phone books to make it even more authentic! I’m sure there are countless details that I failed to catch. This is definitely the kind of film that warrants subsequent viewings in order to get the details I’ve missed on initial viewing.
I’ll end this review with one last observation. I like how the story stays focused on the journalism aspect of the scandal and how the Post finally got to publish it, there’s no unnecessary subplots about the personal lives of the leads or anything of the sort. What an intriguing slice of American history, and as someone who’s not born in the US, it’s especially fascinating to see. To this day, every political scandal is tagged with the “-gate” suffix because of this, which adds to the timeless aspect of this film. Thanks to Redford for acquiring the rights to Bernstein’s and Woodward’s memoir and for Mr. Pakula for bringing this engrossing political history to life.
This is the first entry to my 2014 Blind Spot Series, as first started by Ryan McNeil at The Matinee, and continued by Dan Heaton at Public Transportation Snob .
Here’s my full Blindspot List.
What do you think of All The President’s Men? I’d love to hear what you think!
47 thoughts on “March 2014 Blind Spot: All The President’s Men (1976)”
Glad you finally got to see it Ruth. As one of my favorite movies this one I just can’t pass by when it is on TV. One of the best scripts ever written. It’s so lean… there’s just no fat on it. The story continually pushes forward. I’d put it in the “perfect film” category where everything just runs on all cylinders.
Nice point about every scandal ending with -gate. Time for that phrase to go.
Hey thanks Dave! Took me way too long but hey, better late than never right? Yeah, I love how *lean* the script is and oh so effective. I’d easily make this a 5/5 film really, there’s really nothing I did not like about it.
I absolutely love this movie. One of my all-time favorites. The way it’s structured and executed is remarkable.
Hi Brian, agreed! It’s become one of my favorites now too, remarkable in every sense of the word.
Totally agree Ruth…glad you caught up with this one. It’s a terrific film…I love the pacing; it has you on the edge of your seat which it miraculously achieves every time you watch it even though you know what’s going to happen.
That’s a sign of great filmmaking isn’t it, when they can still inject suspense to a story that’s so well known.
Nice. I love the way this movie ends, with the guys at a typewriter banging away at the keys as they put together the story that would really change how we look at the office of the President forever. I totally agree about the suspense, which doesn’t seem forced and builds so well as they get closer to the truth.
Yes indeed, and the ending too w/ the gun salute to signify how words were used as the weapon to bring truth. All the details are really amazing, I’m sure there are more I missed out on.
Great post, Ruth. An awesome film and your post highlights what’s great about it–the chemistry of the actors, the cinematograpjy, the script–I was in my early teens when it came out and was to young to appreciate it. But I remember the respect it had and Robert Redfort and Dusin Hoffman made a great team here. 🙂
Perhaps you should rewatch it again Cindy, I’m curious how you’d feel about it now. I read that Redford asked Hoffman to do this film as both were quite famous at the time, so the film wouldn’t feel unbalanced. Glad they both ended up doing the film, they certainly are a huge factor who made the film work so well.
Funny, I was thinking the same thing when I read your review. I saw it as an adult but that was 30 years ago. I need the revisit–it’s now that I will probably appreciate this the most!
Quite simply one of my very favourite films. I love love love this movie and really enjoyed the review. Top stuff.
Glad to hear Mark! You have such a fine taste in movies.
One of the great films from, in my opinion, the best decade for films. There were so many films from the 70s that still being considered the best ever made today. And of course this film sure fits in that category. I said before and I’ll say it again, I wish Pakula made more films, it’s too bad that his last film (The Devil’s Own) was such a failure; not really his fault though. I blamed that on Harrison Ford and Brad Pitt, they were like little kids bickering with one another.
I haven’t seen Devil’s Own but now you made me curious just how bad it is. How do you mean Ford and Pitt bickering, you mean behind the scenes?
Yeah, long story short, Pitt brought the script to the studio and they agreed to do it. But then Ford read the script and wanted to star in the movie but his role was secondary to Pitt’s and since Ford was a bigger star than Pitt at the time, the script was rewritten with Ford’s character being the lead and Pitt has to be a secondary character. While filming Pitt was so piss because the original script he loved is no longer being use, he wanted out of the movie but the studio would sue him if he does. Also, during the shoot, Ford and Pitt just hated each other and apparently Pakula was the person who kept the peace. Both Ford and Pitt respected him and chose him to direct the movie. The Devil’s Own was like the most talked about movie around that time because of the behind the scenes drama. It’s supposed to open in the Oscar season of 1996 but after a disastrous test screening, the studio decided to dump it in March of 1997 and marketed it as an action/adventure. Of course the film tanked and Pitt and Ford never worked together again.
The movie itself wasn’t a disaster, I actually didn’t hate it but without the behind the scenes drama, it could’ve been another great flick by Pakula. Sometimes big stars can ruin a movie, not just bad writers or directors.
This definitely fantastic. And I totally agree on how stunning is its attention to detail! Great review, Ruth!
Thanks Josh! It was well worth the wait seeing this, but now I remember I’ve seen some clips of this in college, but glad I finally got to seeing the entire film!
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This was a film that I saw back in high school in history class I think and I really liked it though most of my classmates were bored by it. I still think it holds up as a great piece of American cinema with Hoffman and Redford at the top of their game with Jason Robards being the real standout for me. A classic in ever sense of the word.
I can see how high school kids would be bored by this, but perhaps as they rewatch it again as an adult they might appreciate it. Everyone was really at the top of their game here, an absolute classic that warrants repeat viewings.
I love how your photos just sucked me into your post! And loved your research! Such a great review. Cheers 🙂
Ahah well glad that they did. I just had to mention the excellent cinematography, thanks for the kind words!
Nice review. It’s definitely a classic for sure, one that I’ve been hoping to revisit.
This film has a timeless quality about it, I’d think if I watch this again years later it’d still hold up just as well.
Absolutely brilliant review Ruth. Enjoyed every sentence of it. It has been sooo long since I last saw this film and I don’t remember much about it. I do remember that it didn’t leave a huge impression on me. But here’s the interesting thing – that was probably 20 years ago! My movie sensibilities have definitely changed since then and this is a movie I have been intending to rewatch. Really glad you wrote about it. I think that’s the kick I need to visit it again.
Aww thanks Keith! Glad that it made you want to rewatch it again. Interesting that you mentioned about movie sensibilities, I feel that had I seen this when I was much younger, I might not have appreciated it as much.
I think that is exactly the case with me. Just didn’t appreciate it at that age.
I think some of the political stuff would just went way over my head. But now, having been living in the States for some time and listen to NPR a lot, I grasped it a lot better than I otherwise would. I also didn’t see this as Republican bashing as say, something Oliver Stone would do. That’s one of the things I appreciate about this.
Those are always the best ones – Films that don’t bludgeon you to death with their heavy-handedness. You really have me anxious to see this again. I know TCM shows it so I will have my DVR ready.
I was early in college when this whole scenario was unfolding, day after day after day after… well you get the idea. If you missed just one day of following the story on the news it was hard to understand what was really going on, so being young and easily distracted by college boyfriends I just stopped paying much attention. It wasn’t until years later and after watching ATPM that I finally comprehended the big picture. This is one film that can be watched again. I give it the same high marks you did, Flixy. Glad you got to see this political classic.
Hi Becky! Wow, so the details as the events unfold was pretty fast paced? That’s interesting and so fascinating. I’d think that people who were following the real scandal when it happened would have a different perspective on this. Glad that you love it as well.
Brilliant post Ruth with lots of interesting snippets of trivia!
Hey thanks Natalie! I couldn’t help including some of the trivia as they’re almost as fascinating as the film itself!
Superb write up Ruth! Been absolutely ages since I’ve seen this. I can barely remember much about it to be honest. I need to give it another watch, it’d probably be like watching it for the first time! All I remember is that it’s a ruddy good film! 🙂
Hi Chris! There are lots of intriguing details here that yeah, I’d think if you see it again it’s like watching it for the first time. Definitely one that warrants repeat viewing, I know I would see it again years down the line. Both Redford and Hoffman were fantastic!
The Director, Screenwriter, Film Critic Rod Lurie once had a radio program on Saturday mornings and he always identified this as his favorite film ever. The primary reason is the script. It takes a complex story, that had intertwining elements spread over an 18 month period and condensed it into a tight suspense film, despite the fact we know the outcome. Lurie would sometimes go on for several segments highlighting the dialogue or story telling tools used in making this film work. The last time I saw it on the big screen was at a Warner Brothers festival held at the Chinese Theater. The volume of the typewriters at the end was way up and it punctured the finish of the movie perfectly. Great writeup here Ruth. Your not being familiar with the machinations of the government and the political system, I could see how it might be intimidating to try and follow this. Goldman did a great job. One less blind spot, always a step in the right direction.
Hi Richard, thanks for your insightful comments! The script truly is remarkable, I’d imagine it’s tough to make stories like this to be ‘not boring’ but to make it so riveting is quite a feat! Yeah, I’m not into politics of any country, it was a bit intimidating at first to tackle this but I’m glad I did. Somehow I was able to follow the story quite easily, again a testament to how good the script was!
Such a great post! I can’t wait to see this one, but it’ll probably be a while. You have me completely intrigued though.
I hope you see it soon Andrew, it’s quite riveting even if you’re not into politics. It’d help if you like conspiracy movies though 😀
I know I have seen this movie a long time ago, but cannot remember much of it anymore. This makes me want to rewatch it!
Hi Nostra! It definitely warrants and deserves a rewatch, I know I’ll be doing that too in a few years time.
Yay! It’s a classic conspiracy thriller and one of my all-time favorite movies. 😀
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