Movie Project #29: All the President’s Men [1976]

The 50 Movies Project: 2013 Edition

In what has become an annual tradition, I have decided to embark in a third round of the 50 Movies Project. The premise is simple — I have put together a list of 50 movies that I feel I absolutely must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. With so many films to see, it’s easy to get off track and forget about some of the essentials. This is my way of making sure I watch those that have been on my “must see” list for too long.

All the President's Men [1976]

All the President’s Men [1976]
Director: Alan J. Pakula
Writers: Carl Bernstein & Bob Woodward (book), William Goldman (screenplay)
Country: USA
Genre: Biography/Drama/History
Starring: Dustin Hoffman, Robert Redford, Jack Warden, Martin Balsam, Hal Holbrook, Jason Robards
Running Time: 138 minutes

Reason for inclusion: This is considered one of the greatest journalism films of all time, as well as one of the best from the 1970s.

Accolades: Won four Oscars (Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Art Direction, Best Sound, Best Supporting Actor), nominated for four other Oscars (including Best Picture), 10 BAFTA nominations, National Film Registry, AFI’s 100 Cheers, 100 Thrills and 100 Movies lists

All the President’s Men is film that focuses entirely on one story: the investigation of the earth-shattering Watergate scandal. Everything else is trivial.

Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) and Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) are assigned to cover what appears to be a relatively unimportant news story: the burglarization of the Democratic National Committee headquarters. When it is revealed that the men — all of whom had CIA ties — had bugging equipment, it’s clear that there is more to this than meets the eye. What follows is some truly incredible journalism work, as Woodward and Bernstein go down every single possible route in order to unearth more information about this political scandal.

The two reporters call anyone and everyone who knows the men related to the scandal, they go door-to-door in hopes of securing interviews, and they search through public records, trying to find any little shrivel of information that may break their case wide open. Their attention to detail is absolutely incredible, and their persistence is admirable. Most journalists would have likely given up after reaching a dead end or two; for Woodward and Bernstein, that was even more motivation to keep going.

All the President's Men [1976]

A vital part of the story’s breakthrough comes from the mysterious figure known as Deep Throat (Hal Holbrook). This anonymous source, a senior government official, agrees to help Woodward, but only by meeting privately in an unlit parking garage. He seems to only drop hints here and there, but having an inside source is just the ticket needed to keep pushing through.

Eventually, through meticulous piecework, the two journalists are able to bust the case open, discovering a massive governmental scandal that runs far deeper than anyone might have guessed. Of course, as they say, the rest is history, with this scandal later culminating in President Nixon’s resignation.

All the President's Men [1976]

What’s most impressive about All the President’s Men is that it focuses almost entirely on this procedural gruntwork, yet it manages to remain gripping throughout. This is a political thriller where the outcome is well known, but there are still times where it’s easy to second guess what might happen. This is a testament to the excellent script, as well as the strong performances from Redford and Hoffman. These two men effortlessly gel into their roles, making them feel like bona fide newspaper reporters. Not once do they feel like actors playing journalists; they *are* the journalists. Special mention must be made of Jason Robards, who won an Oscar for his terrific supporting role as Ben Bradlee, the editor of the Post. Bradlee trusts his reporters, but he demands absolute thoroughness before their stories can hit the front page.

Now, as well-written as the film is, it can still be difficult to keep up with the investigation. Many, many names are dropped, and dozens of people are interviewed and/or called. With so many people involved, it is a bit of a struggle to tell them apart — only the important figures truly stand out.

Still, All the President’s Men is a momentous piece of filmmaking. It is especially enlightening today, as a whole new generation can look back and learn about one of the most significant news stories in our nation’s history. Watergate was a bit before my time, so I was shocked to learn just how deep the buggings ran. For its historical importance alone, this is a film that begs to be seen today, and it should be mandatory viewing in school.


19 thoughts on “Movie Project #29: All the President’s Men [1976]

  1. ckckred says:

    Nice review. One of the best political thrillers in my opinion. You’re right that it’s a little difficult to follow some of the facts, but it’s always entertaining and never boring.

  2. Alex Withrow says:

    Great review. I agree that it can still be tough to keep up with the investigation, which makes me appreciate the filmmakers, and the original reporters, that much more. An extremely smart film.

  3. ruth says:

    I gotta catch this one soon! They were talking about Bob Woodward on MPR the other day and mentioned this one. Looks like it’s a thrilling & timely political thriller.

  4. jackdeth72 says:

    Hi, Eric:

    Great on location shooting. Superb set filling in for the Washington Post bullpen. Crisp, often suspenseful dialogue.
    Good performances from Hoffman and Redford.

    Very entertaining film. Very Hollywood. Though no strict adherence to actual events and convoluted outcome.

    • Eric @ The Warning Sign says:

      Hi Jack, well said on all accounts. I bought into this one, hook line and sinker, and couldn’t help but be enthralled at the impressive journalism skills displayed during the film. Hoffman and Redford make a great duo as well.

  5. Chris says:

    I admire movies that, even though you are aware of the outcome, still manage to maintain the suspense right to the end. Even on a rewatch. That takes good filmmaking. Glad you liked this one too!
    By the way, hope your vacation went well, even though I understand there was an issue about the return flight.

  6. The Blog of Big Ideas says:

    I absolutely agree. All President’s Men is a great movie that should be a mandatory watch in schools. It transcends not only as an entertaining and well-made piece of cinema, but as a enlightening film that can teach a thing or two about politics, while motivating young people to pursue the path of journalism and appreciate their civic duty a bit more.

    Nice review Eric!

    • Eric @ The Warning Sign says:

      Well said, Niels. Even as newspapers continue to thin out, this film still shows how crucial investigative journalism is, and it’s core ideas will remain important for years to come. It’s also an excellent way to learn about one of our nation’s biggest scandals.

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