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  • Post last modified:September 15, 2020

All the President’s Men: Exposing a CREEP


When I was in journalism school, I took a course in investigative journalism. That particular genre is still the finest you can do as a news writer; expose fraud, challenge authorities. It’s not what I do nowadays but I’m not sure it’s my thing after all. Still, watching this masterpiece always makes me feel like an underachiever; Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein (supported by Ben Bradlee) reached the kind of excellence most of us still aim for.

Arrested inside the DNC headquarters
The burglary at the Watergate complex takes place on June 17, 1972. Five men are arrested inside the Democratic National Committee headquarters and brought before a judge who immediately suspects that they are following orders from someone higher up. Present in the courtroom is Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) who notices that a high-priced lawyer is also there. Something is going on. There are clues indicating that the five men plus two others, Howard Hunt and Gordon Liddy, are directly connected to CREEP, President Richard Nixon’s Committee to Re-Elect the President. Woodward faces much resistance initially and is forced to cooperate with a colleague, Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman). They grow to respect one another and their frequent digging is soon starting to be taken seriously. They earn the confidence of people involved in the activities of the Justice Department and the intelligence community, but have yet to learn the full extent of the conspiracy.

Woodward has secret meetings with a source called Deep Throat who discreetly guides him on to the right path and eventually tells him that his and Bernstein’s lives are in danger…

Wonderful sense of manipulation
The story of how two rookie reporters brought down the corrupt President of the United States is one of those heroic tales that journalists will always fall back on, especially since nothing quite like the Watergate scandal has happened again. The film is all about credibility; the Washington Post newsroom is convincingly recreated and there’s barely any music, just dialogue and the sound of typewriters clicking. Unsentimental, down to earth.

There is however a wonderful sense of manipulation; the scene where Woodward is told that his life is in danger cleverly plays tricks on both him and us. Director Alan J. Pakula wants us to feel just as paranoid as Woodward did, but that’s all it is; there are no assassins lurking in the garage where he meets Deep Throat, but it sure feels like it. Cinematographer Gordon Willis helps create that atmosphere, finding the right way to light the iconic, shadowy figure of the secret government employee who knows everything, but is only willing to divulge one clue at a time. His talent is also evident in a brilliantly composed scene that illustrates how everyone in 1972 was consumed with the dramatic primaries, except for “Woodstein” who were busy working on a little-noticed story that would overshadow everything within a year.

Redford and Hoffman are perfectly cast; Woodward and Bernstein were very different but eventually learned how to work together and the two movie stars had a similar approach. Jason Robards gives an authoritative performance as Bradlee, the editor who pushed his reporters to perform better and stood by their side when the Nixon Administration started huffing and puffing.

Included in the extras on the DVD are several interviews with journalists such as Woodward, Bernstein, Walter Cronkite and Linda Ellerbee who claim that a scandal the size of Watergate is unlikely to be exposed today because several circumstances make investigative journalism so much harder to pursue. One can’t help but think that the current Bush Administration would never have survived the ’70s.

All the President’s Men 1976-U.S. 138 min. Color. Produced by Walter Coblenz. Directed by Alan J. Pakula. Screenplay: William Goldman. Book: Bob Woodward, Carl Bernstein. Cinematography: Gordon Willis. Editing: Robert L. Wolfe. Cast: Robert Redford (Bob Woodward), Dustin Hoffman (Carl Bernstein), Jason Robards (Ben Bradlee), Jack Warden, Martin Balsam, Hal Holbrook… Jane Alexander, Meredith Baxter, Ned Beatty, F. Murray Abraham.

Trivia: John Schlesinger was reportedly considered for directing duties.

Oscars: Best Supporting Actor (Robards), Adapted Screenplay, Art Direction-Set Decoration, Sound.

Quote: “You know the results of the latest Gallup Poll? Half the country never even heard of the word Watergate. Nobody gives a shit. You guys are probably pretty tired, right? Well, you should be. Go on home, get a nice hot bath. Rest up… 15 minutes. Then get your asses back in gear. We’re under a lot of pressure, you know, and you put us there. Nothing’s riding on this except the, uh, First Amendment to the Constitution, freedom of the press, and maybe the future of the country. Not that any of that matters, but if you guys fuck up again, I’m going to get mad. Good night.” (Robards to Redford and Hoffman)

Last word: “You have to know exactly what will help the people you’re working with. I don’t, for example, discuss everything with the actors that I discuss with the cinematographer. On ‘All the President’s Men’, I said to Gordon Willis when we discussed photographing the newsroom, ‘I want a world without shadows. I want a world that is a world of truth. Somewhere where nothing gets away, where everything is examined under this merciless glare.'” (Pakula, AFI)



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