Editor’s Note: This month marks the 40th Anniversary of All the President’s Men . Feel free to share your memories of this film in the comments section below.
April 9th marks the 40th anniversary of the release of All the President’s Men. The film stars Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman as the now-legendary Washington Post reporters who broke open the Watergate scandal. It was whipped together in very short order after the Watergate scandal broke, hitting theaters only 20 months after Richard Nixon resigned from the Presidency. Despite that short turn-around, All the President’s Men is one of just a handful of classic movies about journalism.
It stands the test of time and deserves a place alongside the colossi of 70’s cinema. It really is that good.
All the President’s Mean is still admired by filmmakers like David Fincher and Stephen Soderbergh for its visual style. Director Alan J. Pakula and cinematographer Gordon Willis collaborated on a film that is naturalistic on its surface, but full of subtly telling images. This essay from Todd Ritter breaks a lot of it down beautifully. Pakula and Willis use the setting, most notably the Post’s office, as a source of visual contrast and context for the investigation. They frequently put Redford or Hoffman on one side of the screen and let the background actions occupy the other. It creates a contrast between the focused reporters and the larger world that doesn’t yet care about their story. Their other motifs, like the parallels between the Post newsroom and Deep Throat’s parking garage, are the definition of well-made Hollywood craftsmanship.
One shot in particular deserves special notice. Woodward and Bernstein’s visit the Library of Congress to dig up evidence. A friendly clerk gives them thousands of cards to comb through for signs of White House snooping on the Kennedys. Pakula and Willis place the camera directly overheard and then slowly drift it upwards. A subtle dissolve jumps the camera all the way up to the ceiling and the reporters get lost amidst the vast maze-like space. It’s a quietly stunning abstraction of how vast the case they are nosing around is.
All the President’s Men is also a exemplary piece of writing and acting, much like its spiritual successor, Spotlight.
All the President’s Men is also a exemplary piece of writing and acting, much like its spiritual successor, Spotlight. William Goldman’s Oscar-winning screenplay reduces the confusing web of the Watergate scandal to the slog of gumshoe detective work. The young journalists crisscross DC and the country to track down witnesses and informants, only relying on the famous Deep Throat for vague guidance. It’s up to them to fit the pieces together, even as they have no idea if there’s even a story to track down. For viewers, the work looks so emotionally and physically exhausting becomes easy to forget that they succeeded and brought down an American President.
The performances are aces across the board, as well. Redford and Hoffman ably guide the entire show, relying on their contrasting charisma to create an Odd Couple pair of protagonists. Even better is the mass of character actors who fill in the world Post staffers and Nixon apparatchiks. Jason Robards won the first of two consecutive Best Supporting Actor Oscars for his role as Post editor Ben Bradlee. He is cutting and stern, but it hides a gruff affection and enduring belief in his reporters’ work. Robards makes him into the type of father figure that his charges would jump off a cliff for. Other standouts include Hal Holbrook’s grim menace as Deep Throat and Jane Alexander as a terrified Nixon bookkeeper who feels betrayed by her boss’s criminality.
All the President’s Men is a movie that’s often a little outshone by its peers from the 70’s. Maybe it was just a bit unlucky to come out when it did, but the film is masterfully made. It stands the test of time and deserves a place alongside the colossi of 70’s cinema. It really is that good.