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.


Movie Project #33: The Sting [1973]

Due to the surprising success of my initial Movies Project, I decided to do a part two for 2012. This time around I put a greater emphasis on directors I am not familiar with, but I also tried to compile a mix of different genres and eras. This will be an ongoing project with the finish date being sometime this year.

The Sting [1973]

The Sting [1973]
Director: George Roy Hill
Genre: Comedy/Crime/Drama
Starring: Paul Newman, Robert Redford and Robert Shaw
Runtime: 129 minutes

In the context of the film’s title, the term “sting” refers to a deceptive operation designed by con artists to swindle a target of their money. The actual “sting” happens when the operation is complete. If handled correctly, the rube won’t even know what hit ’em, and the cons make out like bandits. It takes some true professionals to pull something like that off.

The Sting tells a story of two such professionals, Johnny Hooker (Robert Redford) and Henry Gondorff (Paul Newman), who work together in an attempt to pull off “the big con.” Their target is the infamous mob boss Doyle Lonnegan (Robert Shaw), a mean son-of-a-bitch who the duo became intangled with after unknowningly conning $11,000 in cash from one his couriers. Hooker and Gondorff enlist the aid of dozens of other associates in their attempt to steal a good chunk of Lonnegan’s money. This becomes an intricately detailed plan, with the group eventually setting up a fake off-track betting parlor, complete with a phony announcer and patrons.

The Sting [1973]

Watching Hooker, Gondorff and their bit players work together to pull off this con is a thing of beauty. These guys are masters at their craft, and every person serves a purpose in their plan. This plan appears to be coming together perfectly, but it soon becomes convoluted once undercover FBI agents, a crooked cop and an unsuspected individual all become involved. With so many others in the mix, it’s a little difficult to keep track of everything, and I kept questioning just who was conning who. By the time of the big “sting” scene, my thoughts were scrambled and I had no clue what exactly was going to happen. This impressed me quite a bit, actually, as I like to think I have a good sense for what’s going to happen in caper films like this. Director George Roy Hill and writer David S. Ward kept me on my toes with this one, and I couldn’t be happier about all my second guessing.

In line with the 1930s Chicago setting, the film adds a certain whimsical feel by including a ragtime era soundtrack, as well as using old-fashioned title cards to announce each section of the movie. These are nice touches that help keep the film lighthearted, even as the plot digs deeper and deeper.

The Sting [1973]

Of course, much of the film’s success rides on the shoulders of the immensely talented cast. Newman and Redford have tremendous chemistry, perhaps even surpassing their entertaining pairing in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (also directed by Hill). They are so much fun to watch together, and they have a worthy adversary in the form of Robert Shaw, who plays the target with a certain “cartoonish” vibe. Other highlights include Charles Durning and Ray Walston, the former of which plays the crooked cop, an integral character in the story.

The Sting was a wildly successful film, earning nearly $160 million on a $5.5 million budget. It also cleaned up at the Oscars, earning ten nominations while winning seven (including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay). With such impressive accolades, I was primed to be let down by the film, but this blew me away. As far as caper films go, I can’t think of much better than The Sting.