All the President’s Men (1976)
If there’s been one recurring theme throughout Donald Trump’s presidency thus far it’s this – he really hates the media. A lot.
With his near constant angry tweets about “FAKE NEWS” and “Failing” publications that regularly publish stories critical of his administration, not to mention majority of TV news outlets with a particular hatred of CNN (although let’s face it CNN is a bit crap), Trump has “enjoyed” perhaps one of the most hostile relationships between an American President and the media in decades.
Arguably the last president to experience such a testy relationship with the press was Richard Nixon, whose dirty dealings regarding the Watergate break-in were uncovered by the very media he despised with the revelations revealed ultimately leading to his resignation from the Oval Office, becoming the first (and only) President to do so.
It’s the story of how the media investigated and uncovered the dodgy dealings of “Tricky Dick” that is the focus of this particular entry in the Trump celebration, Alan Pakula’s engrossing journalism drama All the President’s Men.
In 1972, several men are caught breaking into the offices of the Democratic National Committee in the Watergate hotel in Washington DC. Washington Post reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward are assigned to cover the story and in the process discover this botched attempt at burglary is in fact merely the tip of a vast political conspiracy leading all the way to the White House.
In the lead roles of Woodward and Bernstein are the dynamic duo of Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman (I know) with the pair’s sparkling on-screen chemistry and charisma working wonders at making their performances feel authentic and engaging. Redford (who also produced the film), in particular, excels in his role giving arguably the finest performance of his career, with his easy-going charm and dogged determinism making him an easy hero to root for.
In the supporting roles, we have a solid cast led Jason Robards (in an Oscar-winning performance), Jack Warden and Martin Balsam all of whom give outstanding performances in their respective roles, with Robards no-nonsense portrayal of Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee being one of the finest of the veteran actors varied career.
My personal favourite performance of the whole film, however, is Hal Holbrook as the mysterious informant dubbed “Deep Throat”. Holbrook masterfully creates a character cloaked in shadow (both figuratively and literally), perfectly delivering the myriad of cryptic statements and chilling revelations about the Watergate break-in and how high the connections to it go, with his careful and quite delivery leaving you hanging on his every word.
It’s a testament to Holbrook’s talents that he is able to create such a memorable and iconic performance given that, at the time of the film’s release, the true identity of “Deep Throat” was still a closely guarded secret not to be revealed until 2005 when he was unmasked as former FBI Deputy Director Mark Felt.
With much of the film devoted to watching Woodward and Bernstein run around Washington interviewing people, scribbling notes, writing up their stories or having very long phone conversations (much of the film seems to focus on these phone conversations) one would expect the film to be a rather dull affair. However, due to the meticulous script by William Goldman and impeccable direction from Alan Pakula, this is far from the case.
The various shots of Redford or Hoffman sprinting like madmen through the offices of the newspaper are as exciting as any foot chase in an action film and many scenes of Redford speaking with “Deep Throat” are as unsettling as they are engrossing. And far from being boring, the film’s many phone conversations often feature some of it’s best moments, with Woodward and Bernstein’s careful questioning often unwittingly leading their sources to cough up vital information.
The highlight of the film in my view is a nearly 10-minute unbroken single take in which Woodward sits at his desk juggling phone conversations between sources while his colleagues are gathered over his shoulder around a TV watching a news story break. You’ll find the conversation that Redford is having with his sources to be so engrossing and intense that you’ll barely notice that the camera has subtly closed in till his whole face fills the frame. It’s a testament to the writing, directing, cinematography and Redford’s performance that this potentially mundane scene emerges as arguably the most exciting moment of the entire film’s two-hour runtime.
Led by brilliant performances, a perfectly crafted script and outstanding direction, All the President’s Men is a brilliant work of political drama that I highly recommend to anyone even slightly interested in politics or journalism.
While Donald Trump might not face his own Watergate-type scandal (unless the Russia inquiry digs up something truly incriminating), he might want to be careful when he bashes the media, because if he’s not, the media, like it did to Nixon, might just try to bring him down. All they need to do is “follow the money”.