10 April 2005 | paul2001sw-1
Truth is stranger...
A central problem for all thrillers is that the need to find twist after clever twist means that stories escalate quickly into realms of implausibility; an apparently boring tale of low level corruption soon brings down the President of the United States. Which gives 'All the President's Men' a huge advantage over most thrillers, because this film (based on the Watergate incident in 1972) can tell such a story and support it on the basis that all of it is true. Director Alan Pakula, something of a conspiracy thriller specialist, here does a great job in adapting the book written by the journalists who broke the story: the film is never overly melodramatic, but is always tense, and although it has pair of heroes, we're left in no doubt of their selfish motivations as they work potential witnesses any way they can in their bid to nail the truth. Unlike most clichéd detective thrillers, the true nature of the crime is unknown (and arguably, remains unknown to this day), so even though we know what happened, there's an air of unpredictability to the story; reporters Woodward (played by Robert Redford) and Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) don't know what they are looking for, even though they are certain that (somewhere) it is there. The plot is nicely paced, and even dares to skip lightly over the eventual vindication of the journalist's hunches, preferring to concentrate on how it felt for them, chasing this huge story, over a mere historical reconstruction of President Nixon's demise. Indeed, although Nixon appears in this film, it's only on television, and played by himself. This means that what we don't get is a wider analysis: a theory as to the true motive of Nixon's actions is hinted at but nothing more; nor does the film tell us whether it regards his behaviour as a disgrace to modern politics, or an mere symptom of them. In this respect, Oliver Stone's (more fanciful) 'Nixon' makes an interesting companion piece. But as a complex, gripping and understated thriller, 'All the President's Men' has few equals. Truth is stranger than fiction indeed.