Golden Oldies: All the President's Men

As part of the Tyneside Cinema’s 'Altered States: 70s American Cinema' season, Dan Haygarth saw the 1976 journalism thriller, All the President’s Men. Does it live up to its intimidating and controversial reputation? Is it still relevant today in our terrifying political climate?

Dan Haygarth
28th November 2016

Based on the 1974 book by journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, All the President’s Men tells the story of the Washington Post’s investigation of the Watergate scandal, which rocked American politics and ultimately led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon.

The third part of director Alan Pakula’s unofficial ‘Paranoia Trilogy’, All the President’s Men is one of the greatest and most important films of the twentieth century. A worthy winner of four Academy Awards in 1977 (including one for William Goldman’s adapted screenplay), the film captured the era’s suspicious and insecure mood perfectly. Gordon Willis’ atmospheric cinematography, in particular the frequent use of wide shots, creates a genuine sense of fear and emphasises that the journalists’ every move is being watched.

The pairing of two screen icons, Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman as Woodward and Bernstein respectively, is arguably the film’s greatest asset. Seeing these two legendary actors together at their peak is a joy to watch. Their excellent chemistry creates a humorous personality clash, as Hoffman’s frenetic and defiant Bernstein continually irritates Woodward, while the latter’s emphasis on evidence frustrates his colleague. Redford and Hoffman revel in their everyman roles, as Pakula’s emphasis on the regularity of the two journalists allows them to abandon their movie-star personas and bring the characters to the fore.

The supporting cast is superb, particularly the Oscar-winning Jason Robards as Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee, who delivers the film’s most indelible line: “Nothing’s riding on this except the first amendment to the Constitution, freedom of the press, and maybe the future of the country. Not that any of that matters, but if you guys fuck up again, I’m going to get mad.”

As a film about journalism, it is unparalleled. Woodward and Bernstein’s tireless work, whether it be searching through the Library of Congress’ records by hand or Woodward’s shady meetings with his government source ‘Deep Throat’, displays the profession at its most admirable and vital. Despite its understandable anti-Nixon agenda, the film skilfully manages to avoid taking a partisan approach to party politics – a fine example of journalistic integrity.    

Technically brilliant and featuring excellent performances, All the President’s Men is a consummate conspiracy thriller. Its account of the scandal encapsulates the dangers of power and the threat of surveillance; and as the Snooper’s Charter was recently passed into law, the film remains as essential as ever.

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