77 – All the president’s men (1976)

Bob Woodward: I never asked about Watergate. I simply asked what were Hunt’s duties at the White House. They volunteered he was innocent when nobody asked if he was guilty.

 

Seen before?

R: Yes, once, not too long ago.

F: Same.

 

Thoughts?

R: Can you imagine trying to research or investigate something without the internet? This film makes it look impossibly glamorous. I certainly wouldn’t mind working in a newsroom as depicted here, among scribbled notebooks, noisy typewriters and heavy smokers. Sadly not a very healthy lifestyle though.

F: This film makes ‘men talking on the phone and typing’ more gripping than most action films I’ve seen recently. And whilst I’m sure the internet would have sped up the investigation, you still get the feeling it’s the persistent nature of the two journalists that got the story in the end. It’s almost impossible not to draw comparisons with Spotlight – they’d make an interesting double bill and would highlight how much investigative journalism has changed over the last 30/40 years.

R: Spotlight does almost feel like a soft reboot of this film. What for me puts this slightly ahead are the characters of Woodward and Bernstein, and the effectiveness of the naturalistic performances from Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman. I think having that focus on just two characters helps us to believe in them, whereas Spotlight is more of an ensemble, so you don’t get quite so invested in those doing the investigating. Based solely on what we see in the two films, Woodward and Bernstein are the journalists I’d rather go for a beer with – and clearly that’s the metric that counts when evaluating movie heroes!

F: I agree this is a better film than Spotlight. However I did find this harder to follow. I imagine when this came out, just two years after Nixon resigned, the whole Watergate scandal and cover up were fresh in people’s memories. However, I felt I needed to do my homework before seeing this again as the first time we saw it I was just completely lost. Even after doing some research there were characters and names mentioned late on in the story who seemed important to the plot but I had no idea who they were!

R: I know what you mean, but oddly I think the names of the senior people in the Nixon administration, and who exactly did what, are not particularly crucial. This is a story about unpeeling an onion, not, err, eating one. While those of us coming to the film 40 years late might benefit from more explanation of who’s who, if the film got bogged down in that sort of exposition it would likely only detract from the central pairing. I think one of the reasons the film works so well is because we so directly see events through their eyes.

F: There is a quite a bit of explanation at the start (such as who Coulson is). I don’t think it helps that you never see any faces, just hear names. You mention how the characters of ‘Woodstein’ are the focus but actually I found that we never find out anything about them except Carl Bernstein liked to smoke a lot. However, I do agree that one of the key successes of this film are the two central performances.

R: Well, there are different kinds of information you can be given about a character. You’re right that there’s almost a total vacuum of background details about their family or social life (although some things are just revealed quite subtly: for example there is a suggestion in one of Bernstein’s early interviews that he has a less than stellar reputation with the ladies). Instead we get a lot of information on their emotional life, their attitudes as reporters, and the toll of the investigation. That’s the thing that’s important to the story and I’d say gives the characters a depth that no amount of biographical detail could give them. Is there anything about them you think the audience needs to know but isn’t told?

F: Probably! There is a sense in this film that the Washington Post were the only people investigating Watergate but I don’t believe that’s true. 

R: It does feel a little like an advert for the Washington Post at times, but there is one moment when the New York Times breaks a part of the story ahead of them. And there are also a few moments when Bernstein is on edge about them losing their scoop…

F: Also Deep Throat is quite annoying at times don’t you think? He could just tell Woodward what he needs to know but instead gives him silly clues like it’s a puzzle! What I do like though is that at the time the film was made the identity of Deep Throat was still unknown so it gives a true air of mystery as to who this anonymous source is.

R: The Deep Throat stuff does seem a bit corny, but of course it’s been ripped off and parodied a million times since. I never realised the phrase “follow the money” originated from (or at least was popularised by) this film.

F: Definitely a quote I’ve heard whilst watching House Of Cards recently! 

R: Also pretty key to The Wire! This film could have the most significant legacy of everything we’ve seen so far, and for me, derservedly so.

 

Is it worthy of the top 100?

F: I think I’ve been quite harsh on this in the review, but actually I think it’s great. Does require a bit of background reading but it is worth it!

R: About the best film there is about journalism. It’s a yes from me.

 

Up next:
76 – Forrest Gump (1994)
Previously:
78 – Modern Times (1936)
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