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1 Year, 100 Movies #77 All the President's Men (1976)

by Trey Hock on September 4, 2010

in 1 Year, 100 Movies,Columns

For 1 Year, 100 Movies, contributor/filmmaker Trey Hock is watching all of AFI’s 100 Years, 100 Movies list (compiled in 2007) in one year. His reactions to each film are recorded here twice a week until the year (and list) is up!

Well I had no intention of taking a week off, but here six days later I have. To my faithful readers (I think there are four of you now), my apologies, I will catch up over the next few days. Still, this entry was a difficult one.

“All the President’s Men” is a film based on a book about two fellows who write newspaper articles, and I’m supposed to now write a review. This just felt so meta. But do not be discouraged by my reductive description of “All the President’s Men.” It is a very watchable film that is more a study of a moment in history and the process of journalism than a mystery.

The film itself follows Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) and Carl Bernstein’s (Dustin Hoffman) investigation of the Watergate break-in and related incursions made by Nixon operatives into their opponent’s offices and headquarters. There could have been a thick coat of gloss applied to “All the President’s Men” that would have upped the danger, intrigue, or suspense. Instead Redford, who bought the rights to Woodward and Bernstein’s book; William Goldman, the screenwriter; and Alan Pakula, the director, decided to make this film real.

This is a huge gamble. How to make the real, time-consuming, pavement-pounding work of journalists feel real on screen without it boring the audience? This is filmmaking that is as dangerous as it is subtle.

For example here is one of the more exciting scenes, and the one in which Woodward and Bernstein’s position on the story appears tenuous.

This film is no thriller by any stretch, but that doesn’t mean that “All the President’s Men” doesn’t hold your attention.

In spite of the innumerable amount of facts that burden the story, it continues to move along, and we see the progress, setbacks, lucky breaks, and perseverance of these two journalists. You may not remember half the names that everyone is throwing around, but you always know whether Woodward and Bernstein are winning or losing.

Redford and Hoffman both give fantastic performances that go almost unnoticed. I say this because almost everything they do in their roles is boring. We see them making phone calls, interviewing people, looking through library cards. But both of these men endow these actions with a simmering urgency that makes them engaging.

“All the President’s Men” also places the viewer in an historical moment. Pakula does this visually by creating highly stylized scenes that include shots of the newsroom and a television. Here is an example that takes place in the film during the Republican National Committee’s Presidential nomination.

Not a word of spoken dialogue, but we, as viewers, now understand the time, place and the stakes for our main characters. Many other filmmakers use this type of technique or motif, but rarely is it employed with such skill.

This movie is still timely and important. With tensions between parties ever-growing and divisions between left and right increasing, it is comforting to see terms like “activist journalism” being thrown around in the 70s. If we made it through that time with a handful of reporters dedicated to the facts and doing what was right, then perhaps there is hope for our current historical moment. I guess we shall see.

Regardless, you should check out “All the President’s Men.” It is perhaps the only film that is shot in a seemingly boring way about a seemingly boring subject that could garner a 100% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes and an impressive number three on Scene-Stealers’ Top 10 Political Movies list.

Next up #76 “Forrest Gump” (1994)

1 Year, 100 Movies #78 Modern Times (1936)

1 Year, 100 Movies #79 The Wild Bunch (1969)

For links to #80 – 89, click on 1 Year, 100 Movies #80 The Apartment (1960)

For links to #90 – 100, click on 1 Year, 100 Movies #90 Swing Time (1936)

In addition to contributing to Scene-Stealers, Trey makes short films and teaches at the Kansas City Art Institute. Follow him here:

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Norm Schrager September 4, 2010 at 11:53 am

A brilliant film, exciting and tense despite its matter-of-process approach. Phenomenal screenplay. Would die on the vine if it were released today.


2 Rosie September 4, 2010 at 1:59 pm

This is the one movie, so far, on the list that I actually own. I love it, and it really is the performances of Redford and Hoffman that sell it for me. The moment when they’re in the library looking through all the request cards is fantastic. You’re right in saying that it’s an immensely boring and thankless task, but with the slow draw upwards, plus the music, it somehow becomes awe-inspiring.


3 Trey Hock September 6, 2010 at 7:23 am

I hope you’re wrong about it’s viability if it were released today, but I tend to agree.

Good movie to own. I was just thinking about how easy this one is to watch over and over. Redford and Hoffman give such solid performances.


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