All the President’s Men Review

(3.5 STARS)

We all know the story. President Richard M. Nixon and “all of his men” conspired to bug the offices of the Democratic National Committee at the Watergate Hotel, operated a secret slush fund within the White House, and obstructed justice during the investigation. Alan J. Pakula’s “All the President’s Men” is the story of two journalists who helped expose the cover-up. The film is all plot. The acting, direction, and technical features are largely unmemorable. But because the story is so inherently interesting, and because of the fascinating (at least for me) “no frills” look at the profession of journalism, the film succeeds.

Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) and Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) are junior reporters at the Washington Post. After the Watergate break-in (before anyone has any idea of how wide-reaching the corruption goes), Woodward heads to court to report on the indictment of the trespassers. When he realizes they worked for the CIA, he wants to dig deeper. His editor, Ben Bradlee (Jason Robards), puts Bernstein on the story with Woodward, despite being skeptical of their abilities. They make calls and find sources, but can’t really get anyone to talk to them. The only person who gives them any information is the mysterious Deep Throat (Hal Holbrook), who seems to know everything, but will only set Woodward on the right path. Eventually, with their reputations and lives on the line, the two reporters get the information they need to expose the scandal.

As I’ve said, the best thing about this film is the plot. I don’t know how you can watch a film about Watergate and not just be completely enthralled. My two major interests outside of movies are journalism and politics, so this film nailed all three. I can see someone being bored out of his or her mind of they aren’t interested in any of these things, but honestly, it was kind of hard for me going in not to like this film. Like the more recent “Frost/Nixon,” which picks up right where this film, I knew I was going to like this from the outset. Once it started, it just became a question of how much I’d like it.

And in that respect, it wasn’t the grand slam I thought it would be; I’d say it was more of an RBI double. Without a doubt, I really enjoyed the film, but it didn’t bring it home the way I hoped it would. Part of that was the fault of the acting. While displaying solid chemistry, Hoffman and Redford are both pretty one-note. They are the kinds of performances anyone could do. That being said, I thought Jason Robards and especially Hal Holbrook are exemplary. Holbrook steals the few scenes he is in with the perfect combination of mystery surrounding the character and great line delivery.

The other minor problem I had was with the complete lack of stylistic touches from Pakula. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the totally unglamorous look at journalism, but the film as a whole lacked anything really interesting related to the way it was made. Again, that doesn’t mean it was poorly made. On the contrary, I think everything for the most part worked. But classics such as this should be looked at differently than your average movie, which might mean I’m being nit-picky, but I thought the film and its director could have delivered more in the style department.

As you can see, this one was a tough one for me. I really liked it, but still came out of it feeling a little disappointed. Perhaps I should’ve checked my expectations at the door, but for a film that is so highly regarded, is about one of the most fascinating times in history, and tells that story from the point of view of my chosen profession, I think it was fair of me to expect an all-time great. That it wasn’t. But it was a thoroughly enjoyable and still very interesting look at the these two journalists and the beginning of the end of Richard M. Nixon.

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