‘All the Presidents Men’ Revisited: Nixon, Watergate and a Shining Example of Journalistic Integrity
“Why is this film being made?” I thought to myself while watching the latest trailer for Steven Spielberg’s The Post. “It’s not solely because of Trump’s ‘fake news’ comments” I thought, because the majority of American news media sides with The Left. “It’s not solely because of the on-going movement for equality we are currently witnessing” I thought, because this movement has been raging for a number of years now and we are finally seeing significant change occurring. This remained a mystery to me until Alan J. Pakula’s magnificent 1976 adaptation of All the President’s Men repeatedly punched the answer right into my brain: Legacy Journalism. In this day-and-age we have a powerful tool at our disposal in The World Wide Web to help us hear every available “take” – but this ease naturally comes with the eventual resentment of credentials and authorship.
We have thousands of news sites that cover thousands of different fields spread around the Western World. Like little specs of crystal around the mouth of a volcano, or the misshapen ear on a boxer that has flowered from a powerful blow to the side of the head, legacy journalism is something beautiful found within the confines of a particularly chaotic system. All the President’s Men is a tense showcase of the investigation of The Watergate scandal led by two young journalists for The Washington Post: Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) and Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman), respectively.
Redford and Hoffman play off each other’s incongruity perfectly, even down to the simple looks of the characters – with Redford’s sandy-blonde hair and neat, colourful suits contrasting with Hoffman’s bold monochromes. Bernstein is seen as an opportunist at first glance; reckless yet bold; tiny in stature and besmirched within his circles, while Woodward is patient and methodical – hell bent on preserving his ethics as a journalist. The true standout is Hal Holbrook’s elusive whistleblower “Deep Throat.” Holbrook handles the role with reserve and makes a significant impression as a performer despite being hidden behind a wall of shadow the entire time. The film is almost neo-realist in its pragmatism. We follow Woodward and Bernstein throughout their journey to highlight the corruption behind the Watergate scandal in very trying times and Pakula uses this premise to test both the film’s protagonists, as well each member of the audience.
The two men operate within the stronger workings of a constantly moving world; the offices buzz with excitement and stress, the outside world can be felt as an almost-intrusive presence, long takes are used often as if to drink in as much of each scene as possible. The background is a character in its own right thanks to cinematographer Gordon Willis’ frequent use of duel-focus lenses that highlight both the foreground and the background, as-well-as the film’s attention to atmosphere which allows us to take note of the noises of phones, cars, conversation and the smashing of typewriter keys as they score the majority of the scenes.
The scandal has made the entire country paranoid and Pakula utilises this paranoia to infuse the film with pure tension. This is somewhat ironic as Nixon’s paranoia had infected The White House before the Democratic Headquarters were broken in to. Nixon liked to record the words and actions of both his staff and opponents during his first term as president and these recordings provided sufficient evidence for the authorities to use in The Watergate investigation. We feel what Nixon felt as we see great governmental buildings loom overhead casting a shadow over the streets of Washington D.C. – only disappearing when covered by a thick sheet of night time shade and the dull, toneless hues of the contemporary American office space. The important actions of the main protagonists aren’t enough to cease whatever commotion surrounds them and I’ve never been so on-edge at the sight of such verisimilitude.
“Does it hold up today?” Well, it’s not that simple – considering how much we contemporary souls want our entertainment to be preaching our own political views. I’d honestly say that the film’s objectivity and belief in a system transcends the boundaries of merely “holding up.” As intelligent and admonitory today as it was in the 1970s, All the President’s Men showcases a rare act of non-partisan journalism that has become so rare to find nowadays. The film is not only thrilling, but is itself a thesis against the inexactitudes and shallowness of today’s chaotic media landscape and a helpful guide to identify true journalism in this interconnected age.