The first time I saw this film, I was suitably impressed but found I couldn't enjoy it completely. In order to keep up with the relentless pace of the plot, I didn't pay as much attention to the writing and the performances as I should have. When it was over, I felt the breakneck pace of the story overshadowed the screenplay and acting, rendering the film an accomplished reprisal of fact but not much else.
What a difference a second viewing made. My familiarity with the plot allowed me to appreciate all the finer details of the film. Watching Redford and Hoffman's disciplined performances as Woodward and Bernstein, for instance, is like watching two expert tennis players work in tandem with one another. When they act together, there is a delightful give-and-take, two masters working their way into a wonderful groove. While they appear steady and reserved on the surface, the two actors radiate a noticeable undercurrent of excitement and dread, as if underneath their stern countenances they're screaming, "Holy sh*t! I can't believe we're doing this!!" Redford, not the strongest dramatic actor, finds his normal-guy niche here and gives one of his best performances. Hoffman is equally strong, making even the simplest scene seem like a masterpiece (the "count to 10" phone scene comes to mind).
Throughout the film, Pakula communicates the idea of these two reporters being completely outnumbered by the people responsible for the Watergate break-in. I loved the numerous overhead shots of Woodward and Bernstein that pull up, up, up, until they're nothing more than specks in the dirty streets of DC. (This technique is also used in the classic scene where the two guys are searching through old records and the camera pulls up to the ceiling and shows them seated along the edge of a circular series of desks.)
The film rockets right along, leaving the viewers as excited over the reporters' discoveries as they are. William Goldman's script helps in this regard, I think, sticking straight to the meat and cutting out any unnecessary roughage. The dialogue gets right down to business while working in realistic vocal habits and the like. Redford really captures this well (listen to his stammering and self-corrections when he talks on the phone to sources - great stuff!).
I can't recommend "All the President's Men" enough. It's tightly-structured, fiercely-paced, and captivating as all get-out. If necessary, watch it twice: once to find out who's who, the second time to savour the handiwork. If you want to talk more about it, leave a red flag on the potted plant on your balcony.
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