Review

  • Warning: Spoilers
    Based on the 1974 book of the same name by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, this is an absolutely brilliant political thriller. I think that the film is a largely historically accurate depiction of the two "Washington Post" journalists' investigation into the Watergate scandal and the surrounding conspiracy. The film has a wonderful script by William Goldman, whose name is synonymous with quality in my book. It throws a great deal of information our way but it is such a taut, well-paced, well-thought-out script that it never runs the risk of overwhelming the audience with exposition. I also have to praise the sterling direction of Alan J. Pakula, who is able to maintain a high level of tension and suspense throughout the film. It is never less than gripping from beginning to end. I liked the fact that music is used sparingly as it added to the sheer sense of realism on display. The film was nominated for Best Picture but it lost to "Rocky". No comment.

    The film stars Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman in a pair of fantastic performances as Woodward and Bernstein respectively. Hoffman is marginally better than Redford but both men deserved Oscar nominations for Best Actor and it is a shame that the Academy was not forthcoming in either case. I wish that they made other films together as they have such great chemistry. Following the break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters the Watergate complex on June 17, 1972, Woodward, a rookie reporter who has only been with "The Washington Post" for nine months, is assigned to cover the matter as it is not considered to be worth the attention of anyone higher up in the paper. He soon discovers that the five burglars have all had prior involvement with the CIA and is able to establish a link between them and former CIA agent E. Howard Hunt and Nixon's Special Counsel Charles Colson. The more experienced Bernstein, who has a tendency to ruffle people's feathers, inveigles himself into the investigation and the two reporters are assigned to together on the story together. Neither of them are particularly thrilled about it but they develop a strong, if occasionally a little combative, working relationship. They're not exactly best friends but they spark off each other and give each other ideas. Bernstein is depicted as being a little obnoxious and he has a "bull in a china shop" mentality when it comes to asking questions of reluctant interviewees, which is almost all of them. It serves as a very effective contrast to the more amiable Woodward's "softly, softly" approach. Bernstein tends to go with gut feelings far more than Woodward. However, they are able to procure many results working together than they may not have been able to get alone.

    Much of the investigation concerns the illegal and unconstitutional activities of the Committee to Re-elect the President, otherwise known as CREEP. If this film were pure fiction, I would mock the use of an organisation with the acronym "CREEP" as laughable since no one in their right mind would pick a name like that. It just goes to show that sometimes fact is stranger than fiction! While some of them are heard over the phone, none of the senior members of the conspiracy such as G. Gordon Liddy, the former Attorney General John N. Mitchell, the White House Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman (regularly referred to as being "the second most powerful man in the country") and Jeb Stuart Magruder are seen on screen. This was a brilliant move on Goldman's part as it served the emphasise the existence of a shadowy conspiracy which involved "the entire US intelligence community." Nixon himself is only seen in archive footage. One of the best illustrations of this is his renomination at the 1972 Republican Convention, which was announced by his eventual successor Gerald Ford. The events surrounding Ford's elevation to the presidency just shy of two years later could not have been predicted at the time so it was merely a stroke of good fortune for the filmmakers that it was Ford who chaired the Convention. Another very effective use of archive footage is the depiction of Nixon being sworn in for his second term in the final scene on January 20, 1973, in which he swears, as part of the oath of office, to "preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."

    Jason Robards won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar but I don't think that his performance as the newspaper's executive editor Ben Bradlee was worthy of it. He was never a great actor and, in this film, he delivered most of his lines in a monotone and shouted the rest. More deserving of the award or at least a nomination were Jack Warden as the local editor Harry M. Rosenfeld, Martin Balsam as the managing editor Howard Simons or the suitably enigmatic Hal Holbrook as Deep Throat, who was revealed to be former FBI Associate Director W. Mark Felt in 2005. Conversely, Jane Alexander is excellent in the small role of the bookkeeper Judy Hoback Miller, who was vital in unravelling the conspiracy, and her Best Supporting Actress nomination was well deserved. She is really the closest thing that the film has a female lead. The film also feature nice small appearances from Ned Beatty, F. Murray Abraham, Lindsay Crouse and Meredith Baxter. In a great moment of art imitating life, Frank Wills, the security guard who secured a place in history for himself when he told the police about the break-in, plays himself at the beginning of the film.

    Overall, this is a superb film which serves as a powerful reminder of the vital role that the Fourth Estate plays in society and as a damning indictment of the worst excesses of political corruption in a democratic state.