25 June 2017 | calinchiriac
Ever Heard of Watergate?
"All the President's Men" (1976) follows the investigation led by Washington Post journalists Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) and Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) on the Watergate scandal, running parallel with President Nixon's campaign for reelection. As the two lead characters see their investigation unfold, hardly, must I say, they get banged down by your usual, but not quite so, "newspaper" drama : missing sources, pettiness of the story, abstinence and denial by the witnesses, lack of hard evidence and, above all, threat to the survival of the Post itself.
This is a gripping time piece. Almost half of the story is spent at the newspaper's offices, overshadowed by the permanent key-tapping of ardent typewriters and the constant chatter of young secretaries, which add a great sense of urgency and authenticity to a typical 1970s Washington workplace, where Woodward and Bernstein, sitting face-to-face in an odd, diagonal line that becomes a subtle symbol for a head-butting professional relationship, learn to first tolerate each other (and each other's egos) before uniting to unveil the truth. The interactions between Hoffman and Redford throughout the movie are as delightful to watch as they are crucial to making William Goldman's Academy Award-winning script reach its climax. We, as spectators, pay attention to these two very powerful actors' every word with such care and eagerness without even seeing through their banter and mistakes, breathing sighs of relief when catching a loose second and setting the alarm as the next one arrives. In the meantime, we get glimpses of written notes swinging in every direction from Woodward, mainly, creating a true journalistic feel, and enthralling conversations over the phone from both characters, desperately attempting to connect with not only the people behind the scandal, but also with the obscure situation on which they vainly light their lamps on, to a point where the phone becomes a mere extension of the hand and the absence of voice on the other end of the wire provokes an expression of total indifference. The story hides behind this progressive and discreet line of events without ever declaring "right" or "wrong", and plays with the writers' heads, leading them to frustration, unaided by the pressure of their superiors, the Metro News' supervisor Harry Rosenfeld (Jack Warden) and the Post's Ben Bradlee (Jason Robards, in a sublime performance).
The remainder of the movie explores Woodward and Bernstein's (or "Woodstein", as Bradlee once cries out, interrupting the high-pitched noise of the office for more than two seconds) attempts to force the truth (or, at least, parcels of it) out of various mouths (White House bookkeepers, attorneys, lawmen, you name it) and shows with true excitement the abusive paraphrasing and deduction the two men make with a less-than-minimal amount of words or simple nods from the speakers (or non-speakers). In fact, the two are so convinced of the story's credibility that they unequivocally trade sentences for common sense, really. This is where the movie falters; its will and urgency to depict these moments rapidly makes them seem trivial and forgettable. For instance, an "informant" of Woodward's ("Deep Throat", as they call him) only agrees to meet with him in a dark, underground parking, but the movie never truly gives his character the proper gravitas and importance that his name really bears, historically speaking.
Nevertheless, "All the President's Men" is the prototype of a solid and honest depiction of a historical event or, in this case, a more or less extended period of time marked by historical events. Alan J. Pakula's camera is turning around America's capital with remarkable ease, giving us the feeling that we have already been there, with Woodward and Bernstein, and capturing the charm of residential homes, the cacophony of midnight streets and the peacefulness of everyday places, such as libraries and diners. As already mentioned, the dynamics of the characters and of their relationships elevate the movie way above average, but the thoroughness to get the story "just the right way" makes it even greater. At some points during the movie, we are projected with real-time speeches from Nixon and his entourage or with journalistic coverage from 1972 and 1973 on a small television set in the office, further down the road from Woodward's small cabinet. As we exchange glances from the coverage on TV to Woodward's continuous typing, we take a step back and contemplate the successful effort of converting the broadcasted story into a much more intimate one.