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   ALL THE PRESIDENTS MEN (1976) 

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CAST
Dustin Hoffman
Robert Redford
Jack Warden
Martin Balsam
Hal Holbrook
Jason Robards
Jane Alexander
Stephen Collins
Meredith Baxter
Ned Beatty

DIRECTED BY
Alan J. Pakula

PURCHASE


DVD



True Story




Time: 138 mins.
Rating: PG
Genre: Political Drama

Won Academy Awards for Best Art Direction, Sound, Supporting Actor (Robards) and Adapted Screenplay. Nominated for 4 other awards, including Best Picture.


I've been looking forward to seeing this film for a long time. I'm a big fan of the screenwriter William Goldman, a man responsible for some of cinema's greatest screenplays including BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID, THE MARATHON MAN and THE PRINCESS BRIDE. Since I was only 4 when the events of the film took place, I thought I would be able to learn more about an infamous time in America's history. I guess I should have watched NIXON.

I knew the film was about the reporters and how they broke the Watergate scandal wide open, I was just unprepared to be so confused. I can honestly say that I'm fairly unknowledgable when it comes to U.S. politics and presidents. Watching this movie really hammered that deficiency home. I'm sure the original audience was quite familiar with the events the film portrayed, as it was released only four years later. Maybe that's why it seemed somewhat jumpy and disjointed to me. They assumed you were aware of what the break in was all about and the political toll their reporting caused. Though the film exposes the corruption of the president's men, it doesn't really follow through with what happened once the scandal broke. I know, Nixon resigned, but I wanted to know how they linked it to him. I guess I should just find a history book.

In any case, this film isn't about how much or little Nixon knew about Watergate. It's about how two reporters figured out the whole mess in the first place and got their publisher to actually print it. The film opens with the break-in and the men getting caught. Woodward (Redford) is sent to the courthouse to cover the story, which is viewed by the paper as fairly minor. The fact that the five men already have their own council and one of them was ex-CIA strikes Woodward as highly suspicious. He starts to poke around to see if there's anything more to the story.


Ben Bradlee: "All non-denial denials. They doubt our ancestry, but they don't say the story isn't accurate."

His first pass doesn't make the grade, and he's paired up with Carl Bernstein (Hoffman), who's also interested in the story and more knowledgable about the local Washington scene. Together they dig around, pumping their sources in every area of the government to find out why everyone's denying knowledge of the break-in, even though that's not what they're asking about. Deep Throat (Holbrook), Woodward's secret government informant implies that if they just follow the money, they'll discover what's really been going on.

So, they start visiting all the members of the Nixon re-election campaign trying to get one of them to actually confirm what they've been able to piece together – that the committee actually had a huge slush fund they were using to undermine the campaigns of the challenging Democrats, as well as various and sundry other dirty dealings. They finally break down the bookkeeper who tells them everything they want to hear. Though it's a great story – if it's true – the paper's editor-in-chief refuses to publish it unless they get someone to go on the record. He's not putting his neck on the line for some half-conceived story, no matter how compelling and explosive. In the end, their unrelenting persistance to get to the bottom of the scandal changes the scope of the American landscape and the role of journalism in our society forever.

I have no idea if the portrayals of Woodward and Bernstein are accurate and I don't care. The film makes them out to be polar opposites – Bernstein is a relentless, in-your-face, beg until they give in kind of reporter. Whereas Woodward uses flirtation and implied sympathy to get what he wants. Hoffman and Redford are perfectly cast and give the film its heart. You desperately want them to succeed and know that if they knocked on your door you'd have a hard time turning them away. Their style is very good-cop/bad-cop with one being rude the other apologetic. The film is most enjoyable when they're onscreen together. Jane Alexander gives an amazing performance as the bookkeeper who can't refuse them. She's frightened for her life, but her conscience won't allow her to keep silent. The film starts out slowly, but picks up the pace as the ball gets rolling and the story comes together.

All in all, ALL THE PRESIDENTS MEN is a well-acted, political mystery that will keep you wondering what's going to be uncovered next. It's more drama than thriller since the only real danger presented in the film is the paper being scooped by another publication. Sure Deep Throat says that they've got their necks in a noose, but that's not really explored or felt. All the energy of this movie comes from the leads, who are willing to do anything to get their story printed. I have a feeling if it weren't for them, journalism would be very different today, for good or ill. It truly was the beginning of no-holds-barred exposure. The deference given politicians in office ended right there, because of these two men. It's quite a double-edged legacy. If you're looking for a smart film, with interesting characters and a compelling story, check this out. Just do a little history homework first or you may spend much of the film somewhat lost.


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