All the President’s Men is a 1976 movie, based on the book of the same name, that follows Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein as they unravel the Watergate conspiracy and trace it up into and through the Nixon administration. The film opens with the break-in itself and then slowly reveals how it was all tied into shady campaign tactics and misuse of campaign funds that led to the appointment of a special prosecutor and multiple former or current administration figures pleading guilty to felonies and I decided to rewatch it this week for no reason in particular.
Nope, no real reason at all. Just hadn’t seen it in a while and thought it would be fun. Why, is there a reason that watching it this week could have been relevant? Huh. Yeah, I don’t know. I’ve been pretty busy. Haven’t been keeping up with the news. Good movie, though.
The time has come to talk about All the President’s Men.
1. The cool thing about All the President’s Men is that it’s structured almost like a 1980s buddy cop movie. Robert Redford plays Bob Woodward as the smooth, calmer, more straightlaced reporter. Dustin Hoffman plays Carl Bernstein as the wild hotshot reporter who smokes in elevators and plays a little fast and loose with the rules but gets results, dammit. Hell, there’s even a scene where their boss (Jason Robards as Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee) threatens to take them off the story. You’ve seen these characters in 100 movies in the 40 years since this one and you’ll see it 100 times in the next 40 years, too. There’s a reason for that: the formula works. The only thing missing was, like, Haldeman cornering the reporters near the end and explaining that he was “not so different” from the two of them, really. Maybe I watch too many buddy cop movies. That’s a possibility, too.
2. There’s a thing people do when they talk about older movies, where they discuss if the movie “holds up” today. I try to avoid doing that because good movies usually just stay good and a movie that doesn’t hold up probably wasn’t that good in the first place. (The exception here is when a “good” movie becomes horribly dated through its use of, oh, let’s say “non-preferred” language or behavior toward groups of people. That’s a different discussion, though.) But if you box me in and force me to have this discussion, then yes, All the President’s Men definitely holds up.
It’s a pacing thing, mostly. Pacing and suspense. The film clocks in north of two hours and is loaded with the types of long scenes that were common for filmmaking of the era, but it doesn’t really drag. There’s a linear progression to it that is captivating. They find a source. Cool. But it’s not enough. So they follow that lead to another source. Cool. Still not enough. They meet with shady secret sources in parking garages and fly to Florida and California. Cool. Getting there. They use fun mental gymnastics to get sources to reveal information, like tossing off a casual mention of a name like they have it confirmed and then letting the source’s agreement serve as the real confirmation. It moves the entire time, step-by-step, and remains super-rewatchable all these years later.
It’s a mystery. It’s two little guys going after a big guy and winning. Who the hell doesn’t love that kind of story? Even if you already know how it ends.
3. The one thing I will say about the 1970s of it all is, man, there is a lot of paper in this movie. Look at Woodward’s apartment.
I’m not sure a nation of people staring at tiny handheld computers for 18 hours a day is much of an improvement, but it is incredible to me that anyone ever got anything done in under those circumstances. There’s a scene in this movie where Woodward and Bernstein go to the Library of Congress to look through book requests. They spend hours flipping through slips of paper looking for one name. Today, that’s a 20-second CTRL+F. It’s insane how much easier that is. You could do that and still have the rest of your afternoon free. You could get in an entire round of golf if you wanted. This is why people are so angry at Millennials all the time.