ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN
Starring: Robert Redford, Dustin
Hoffman, Jack Warden, Hal
Holbrook, Jason Robards, &
Runtime: 138 minutes
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Director: Alan J. Pakula
Producer: Walter Coblenz
Writer: William Goldman
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TITLE: ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN
Quality: * * * * Acceptability: -1
RELEASE: Originally 1976; Now touring
TIME: 138 minutes
STARRING: Robert Redford, Dustin Hoffman, Jack Warden, Hal Holbrook, Jason Robards, & Stephen Collins
DIRECTOR: Alan J. Pakula
PRODUCER: Walter Coblenz
WRITER: William Goldman
BASED ON THE BOOK BY: Carl Bernstein & Bob Woodward
DISTRIBUTOR: Warner Bros.
GENRE: Historical drama
INTENDED AUDIENCE: Adults
REVIEWER: Matthew P. Kinne
CONTENT: (B, PC, RH, LLL, A, D, M) Moral worldview of seeking the truth about a crime diminished by immoral activities & fictional devices which are passed off as true; 21 obscenities & 19 profanities; no violence but implied danger; no sex; no nudity; alcohol use; smoking; and, burglary & lying.
Currently, Warner Bros. is having a festival of classics celebrating 75 years of filmed entertainment. This week-long tour showcases the best films of each decade that Warner Bros has produced, from the 1930's through the 1990's. The best of the best include CHARIOTS OF FIRE, DRIVING MISS DAISY, THE JAZZ SINGER, and CASABLANCA. With all new prints, Warner Bros could be coming to your town next to display this very special movie event.
With Bill Clinton currently being challenged every day in the press for his actual and alleged indiscretions, the time is ripe to review the grandfather presidential scandal of them all, at least in modern times, the Watergate break-in. ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN is not a dramatic re-creation of Nixon and his cabinet (or the Committee to Re-elect the President) nefariously orchestrating the break-in at the new famous Washington hotel. Instead, it is a cat & mouse game of expert and unrelenting investigating reporting by Washington Post reporters Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) and Bob Woodward (Robert Redford).
The story begins at the Watergate hotel with the break-in. Woodward is assigned the story as local news reporters by their hardboiled boss, Ben Bradlee (Jason Robards). At this point, nobody knows the significance of this break-in, and all believe it is a deep paper story to be soon forgotten. Yet, Woodward discovers that two of the break-in artists have the phone number for Howard Hunt, a White House aide and CIA consultant. This leads Woodward to dig deeper. Bernstein becomes attached to the story when he proofreads Woodward's story and polishes it up. Intrigued, he stays with the story and helps Woodward in the chase.
Soon, the pair are receiving all sorts of leads and tips, some from a mysterious anonymous man only known as Deep Throat (Hal Holbrook). The probing takes them from doorstep to doorstep of members of the Committee to Re-elect the President, and others. Most people are very guarded and do not want to reveal anything. Woodward and Bernstein collect information, but the sources wish to remain anonymous to the dismay of Bradlee, who is receiving severe criticism for alleging all sorts of foul play in the Washington Post without substantial confirmation. Some of the best work comes when Woodward and Bernstein fine tune their digging by calming their sources and then through gentle nudging (and sometimes guesswork) slowly extract the truth. Near the end of their quest, both men are ready to throw in the towel, and even resign if they are proven wrong, when their pursuit seems to have come to a standstill, but the end credits reveal a slew of stories which eventually leads to Nixon's resignation and the incarceration of a number of his aides and staff.
The relentless finagling and running around are as exciting as any action story. ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN feels like an action picture, but no gun is drawn and nobody is killed. Hoffman is particularly entertaining as skittish and quirky Bernstein, and Redford performs admirably, but perhaps too laconic for the hound dog role. We are thrilled at the story because the audience learns along with the reporters, shock for shock, just how ugly this mess really is. Production values are high with aerial shots of Washington and many locations. The supporting cast including the many witnesses are enjoyable to see, especially MOVIEGUIDE friend and award winner Stephen Collins as Hugh Sloan, Jr.
However, there is a great deal of evidence that the Deep Throat character never existed and his secret meetings with Woodward casts a hokey feeling on the real story of the investigation. Furthermore, subsequent information and admissions by Woodward and Bernstein suggest that some of their evidence was not accurate but rather designed to further their political goals. Thus, they may have been distorting the truth to fit their agenda just as Nixon was. If so, there may be politically correct revisionist history and even fraud at the very heart of their investigation. Pragmatists will justify this because the end was laudable: moral individuals will not.
If ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN were made today, the audience may see scenes of armed men in some hidden layout, hit men assigned to track and eliminate the reporters, and the inevitable shootout. They may even see a girl sent by the White House to spy on the reporters and try to seduce them or pry them for information. Yet, ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN remains compelling without violence or sex, and to its credit, remains PG in spite of its adult subject matter. Nevertheless, there are many obscenities in it, and if made today, it would probably receive a PG-13 rating (which didn't exist in 1976.) Yet, a sense of moral conscience reigns in Bradlee when he edits out some foul words for the paper.
ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN remains valid for today because it was made at a time when people still cared if their president was moral or not. The Watergate scandal shocked the nation because it showed a weak president covering up his sins. Now, scandals abound and their impact is lessened on the American psyche. Too many Americans have become jaded and complacent, not caring and even celebrating a man for coming through accusations unscathed. While many may tire of investigations of wrongdoing, they must never forget that the highest office in America should be held by men of the highest character, and at one time, the American people penalized them if they weren't.