All the President's Men

AFI Rank: #77 (10th Anniversary list)
Year Released: 1976
Director: Alan J. Pakula
Actors: Robert Redford, Dustin Hoffman, Jack Warden, Martin Balsam, Hal Holbrook

It's impressive how powerful All the President's Men is after all these years. I happen to be taking a journalism course and thought it would be the perfect time to come back and revisit this classic.

The acting, of course, is amazing. Redford, Hoffman, Warden, they're all spot on. The storyline is stunning. Two diligent, persistent, against-all-odds reporters take on the presidency of the United States and despite everything thrown at them they are able to force him to resign.

The movie mixes authentic footage in with the story to give you even more of a sense of being there, of real history unfolding before you.

Part of the fascination with watching it now is to see just how much journalism has changed over the years. When "Woodstein" (as their boss calls them) get a name as a clue, they have to plunk down with piles of Who's Who books trying to figure out who the person could be. If they get a company name, they have to start digging through phone books. They get a Spanish speaking person on the phone, can't figure out how to speak Spanish to him (with an entire news-room of reporters around them) and give up on that line of questioning. They're typing stories on a manual typewriter with two fingers. One error and it's start-all-over.

A group of people sat down each day to talk about the stories available, and then they played a Tetris-like game with what could fit and what was going to be ditched. A story could be abandoned after the reporter invested days in it, just because there was not enough space in the physical piece of paper for it. Writers were told they had "4 columns of space" and they had to cut and squish their stories to fit. It didn't matter if it was a perfect story as is - it had to be changed solely because of the remaining space they could fit into.

The actual printing process also had an impact. At one point Bernstein and Woodward are racing around like wild men trying to get something within 20 minutes. Either they have it in 20 minutes or it can't run.

There were intriguing cultural things as well. In an opening scene where Nixon is heading in to talk with Congress, every single person in the room appears to be a white male. While there's a female reporter, she's used to wheedle information out of an ex-boyfriend. At no point does a woman talk to another woman, it's all about the men.

So a fascinating movie in its own right, for the acting, dialogue, and plot. And then additionally a fascinating movie for its look into the world of 1972-4, and how it differs from the way things are today.

Highly recommended.

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