Tuesday, April 27, 2010

All the President's Men (1976)

So much beautiful hair.

I have kind of a history boner for Richard Nixon. I studied Watergate in college and I was really excited to explore the chapter of the saga that I knew the least about, which was the work that Bernstien and Woodward did to crack the case. All the President's Men is a fascinating look into one of the most important political events in U.S. history, but it is clearly tailored towards people who already know a lot about Watergate. The movie is well made, impeccably acted and generally interesting, but it doesn't create quite enough drama.

All the President's Men is the story of Watergate as experience from the perspective of journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. The movie is based on their book by the same name, and it recounts how the two unknown journalists discovered the breadth of the Watergate scandal with simple persistence and beautiful feathered hair. The movie stars Robert Redford, Dustin Hoffman, Jason Robards and Hal Holbrook. It won four Academy Awards, it was nominated for another four, and it is widely considered to be one of the best movies of the 1970's. Time hasn't been terribly kind to the movie, it received massive critical praise when it was released, but it is still considered one of the best films of it's genre.

The thing most responsible for All the President's Men's slow decline in popularity is simple time. It's been 35 years since Watergate and this movie was released immediately after it. A lot of names and events are mentioned and most of them have little to know significance to the modern viewer unless they are extremely knowledgeable on the subject. When the movie was released, these names were still at the front of people's minds, but now, most of them are obscure trivia facts at best. This makes the film fairly difficult to follow. Aside from this problem, which didn't effect me too much since I have studied the scandal, the film really doesn't do much to increase the drama. It's not until the very end, when the journalists start to realize what they have discovered that things get heated, but the first half of the movie is basically a detective story with no threat. It's interesting to watch, but not always as compelling as I would like. The ending of the movie is, generally great, but it also feels a little bit off. Aesthetically, the ending is really neat. It captures the feeling of the event wonderfully and it makes a lot of sense. The problem is that it comes so suddenly. The movie is already long, but the ending comes just as the movie is beginning to get really suspenseful. While really well done, the ending just feels anti-climatic.

Don't misunderstand my complaints. I really enjoyed All the President's Men. It's a top-notch political thriller with great performances and an awesome script. Hoffman and Redford are at their best and the supporting performances, two of which were nominated for Academy Awards, are even better. The attention to details is also phenomenal. Where some of the problems originate from how soon after the event the movie was made, the movie benefits from this in some ways. The production team was able to talk to most of the people involved and experience the newsroom at The Washington Post as it was during the event. These things help the movie feel extremely natural.

All the President's Men nearly created a genre all by itself. It's one of the first great political thrillers and it perfect example of how non-fiction can be successful on the big screen. The movie didn't quite hit on my favorite parts of the Watergate scandal, but it didn't need to. The film is a top-notch, piece of film-making. it may not have car chases, Mexican stand-offs or lots of yelling, but All the President's Men is still an exciting and intelligent thriller. It earns it's place on the list for a fistful of reasons and certainly qualifies as a must see film, even if it hasn't aged as gracefully as some movies.


No comments: