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All the President’s Men

March 22, 2014

All the President’s Men (1976)
Director: Alan J. Pakula
Actors: Robert Redford, Dustin Hoffman, Jason Robards

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Synopsis: Washington Post journalists Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) and Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) follow the trail of money on what seems like an initially innocuous burglary in the Watergate hotel in 1972.

Review: In the foreground of a newsroom, a television plays the live televised inauguration of Richard Nixon in January 1973. In the background, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein are seen feverishly tapping away at their typewriters. In purely cinematic terms the image shouldn’t work, it’s too theatrical, too obvious. But, coming at the end of Alan J. Pakula’s intense, superlative charting of the metamorphosis of the Watergate scandal, it’s the only suitable epilogue. For the previous two hours, we’ve been privy to Woodward and Bernstein’s relentless thrift and ingenuity in pursuing the tale from a seemingly innocuous substory about a burglary at the Watergate hotel, to a staggering cover-up that reaches all the way to the doorstep of the White House; thus, in a sense, we don’t need to see Nixon’s last rites – this final image of Woodward and Bernstein’s industriousness juxtaposed to his second swearing in says it all.

This stylistic brushstroke is so typical of Pakula – he could easily have lost himself in the compelling subject matter and the piece’s talky sensibility, but he makes it a gripping visual work too – something to rank alongside his earlier ‘paranoia’ masterpiece, The Parallax View. The three key scenes where Woodward goes to meet his ‘Deep Throat’ contact are the visual, dramatic and thematic coups de grace of this film. They’re shot so atmospherically, proving the maxim that the most compelling sequences are just so because of what they restrain and suggest rather than show and they mark the trajectory of Woodward’s investigation from near cluelessness at the beginning, to a semblance of a conspiracy in the middle, to having enough currency to get the conclusive disclosure from ‘Deep Throat’ by the final visit. (March 2014)
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