All The President’s Men brought, in 1976, the already well known Watergate scandal that caused the downfall of the Nixon presidency to the big screen. With the news fresh in the public’s mind (the events themselves occurred in 1972) director Alan Pakula focussed on the story of Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein who exposed the government’s corruption.
And that is what is great about this film and what is wrong with it. All The President’s Men is a film about newspaper reporters who doggedly and defiantly go about their daily business. The dead end leads, the leg work, the small triumphs - with no guarantees that the trail will lead somewhere.
Based on Woodward and Bernstein’s own book, the film is very dialogue driven and a very compelling story. It is not however a very compelling film.
I was kept interested by the great performances of Redford and Hoffman who assumed the roles of regular, average-guy reporters (and not slick Hollywood A-list actors playing at reporting) and great support roles from their newspaper bosses Jason Robards (who won an Oscar), Martin Balsam and Jack Warden, who all “backed their boys” and ran with the story. Even the “boring” aspects of the story were kept tight by director Pakula who kept the pacing of the story even.
But neither was the film a typical Action film where our heroes slay the dragon and win the girl. This is a film where the newsroom looks like a newsroom and newspaper editors sound like newspaper editors. The same search and search and search techniques used by the investigative reporters does not play dynamically on screen. Considering though how a great (true) story could have been wrecked by artifice we can celebrate the verisimilitude of this on-screen story even though it does not quite add up to a satisfying movie watching experience.