Sometimes the truth can be far more intriguing than fiction. That is the case with the true story of All the President’s Men, which depicts the Watergate investigation conducted by Washington Post reporters Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) and Bob Woodward (Robert Redford). It’s hard to believe a film centered on phone calls, jotted notes, and talking head interviews could be so engaging, but it is. Even knowing the outcome, it’s hard not to get caught up in the suspense as their investigation builds, eventually leading them further than they thought possible. Nearly 40 years later All the President’s Men holds up as a gritty, suspenseful drama, made all the more compelling by the fact that it all really happened.
It’s hard to think of a time when news was not instantaneous. Today even the smallest rumbling of suspicious behavior can be broadcast on every news channel and splashed across the internet within hours (if that). Such was not the case in 1972 when there was a break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate Hotel. The event made the news but otherwise went unnoticed as anything other than a run of the mill burglary. It’s also hard to imagine there was a time when the public as a whole was not suspicious of the government. Today, such a break-in would probably arouse immediate suspicions that the other party was in on it.
But at that time, the idea that the President himself would be deeply involved in corrupt activities was not a part of the mainstream consciousness. In this film (directed by Alan Pakula), we see the story unfold slowly, revealing more bit-by-bit, with pretty much everyone resisting the idea that the government has participated in a cover-up. The thing to note about All the President’s Men is that it’s not about Watergate or government corruption. It’s about investigative journalism. Yes, the Watergate scandal is the driving motivation of the story, but the film doesn’t examine the inner-workings of corruption, it only exposes them. As a viewer, we only know what Woodward and Bernstein know—sometimes that is very little. They jot brief notes, make endless phone calls, talk to reluctant witnesses, and go through bank deposits, all of which seem as though they lead to a dead end.
Nonetheless, this film has all the elements of a political thriller. As the investigation continues, the reporters start to fear their lives may be danger. There is a mysterious informant nicknamed “Deep Throat” (Hal Holbrook) who is only willing to give bits and pieces of information, communicating only through a series of covert signals. Tension builds as the reporters stumble closer and closer to the truth. It’s so easy to get caught up in the political intrigue that you start to expect typical movie moments that don’t come. The fact that this film sticks to the true story instead of bowing to a conventionally thrilling climax keeps the film relevant. It feels real and it sticks in your brain that way, a reminder that vigilance and determination really can keep corruption from totally taking hold.
Unfortunately All the President’s Men could probably look better than it does on Blu-ray. Tight close-ups and most medium shots look fairly detailed, but wide shots are lacking in detail. Black levels are very inconsistent, ranging from too dark (suits and dark hair looking like solid black shapes) to a very light gray (the “Deep Throat” parking garage scenes). It’s not at all terrible, but when compared to the restoration of some films from the same period (Taxi Driver comes to mind) it’s disappointing. The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo track is exactly what is needed for this almost all-dialogue movie. There wasn’t really any need to expand it to 5.1, due to how simple the sound design is overall.
Since disc one is the same as the 2011 Blu-ray release of Men, the same features are repeated. Those include a commentary track from producer-star Robert Redford and a series of “making of” featurettes, both recent and vintage (including a short excerpt of Jason Robards, who played Woodward and Bernstein’s boss, Ben Bradlee, on the talk show Dinah!).
The main attraction is the feature-length documentary, All the President’s Men Revisited found on disc two. The 88-minute film is excellent, with new interviews from Redford, Hoffman, news people like Tom Brokaw and Rachel Maddow, and numerous key political figures who were involved in some way with the Watergate scandal. For anyone wanting a more expansive look at the events than what is depicted in the feature film, this is well worth seeing.
All the President’s Men was a box office sensation in 1976, going on to receive eight Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director. It won four of those nominations, including Best Adapted Screenplay (William Goldman) and Best Supporting Actor (Jason Robards). Now coupled with the feature-length Revisited documentary, this is a movie that is every bit as relevant as it was nearly 40 years ago.Powered by Sidelines