More noise than signal

All The President’s Men

Republished from the show notes of my other site, Fuds on Film.

Of all the films on this list, this was the one I’d looked forward to most, as I’ve somehow contrived not to have seen it thus far, and it’s supposed to be the exemplar of the genre. In the unlikely event you’ve not heard of it, Alan J. Pakula’s 1976 film sees Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford take up the mantle of Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward as the Washington Post reporters responsible for every news story having the word Gate suffixed to it.

New to the paper, Woodward is assigned to cover the seemingly minor incident of the red-handed capture of some goons at a break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate complex, but his interest is piqued by the surprisingly expensive lawyer representing supposedly low-rent clientèle, and the claims of their ties to the CIA. Tugging on the strings of this seems to connect increasingly higher profile members of the Republican Party machine, with the more experienced Bernstein also getting assigned to the growing story.

They gain the help of a high placed anonymous source codenamed Deep Throat (Hal Holbrook), which gave me X-Files flashbacks, but the reliance on such mysterious sources spooks the Post’s senior editors, who want more legitimate sources on record, and this as much as following the story taxes the duo’s determination and ingenuity.

There’s little value in recounting all the uncovered cover-ups that eventually led to Nixon resigning in disgrace, and indeed the film sensibly breaks off its pursuit and cuts to the chase itself, presumably having felt that it had fulfilled its remit of showing the procedural side of things and the character of those reporting on it.

I don’t think I have a great deal negative to say about this film – Hoffman and Redford aren’t my favourite actors, but there’s little to complain about with their performances. It moves along quickly enough, given the era it’s from, and it’s a solid look at the technicalities of reliably investigating and reporting an inarguably important story, undeniably an important lesson in this time of erroneous tweets immediately becoming headline news.

Yet, this film just didn’t click with me. Which is not to say I disliked it, really, but it made little lasting impact on me, which I can’t rightly explain, as I enjoyed the very similar approach Spotlight took, which clearly owes a massive debt to this film. But All The President’s Men just couldn’t hold my attention. Perhaps I should have watched the animated adaptation, All The President’s Hens. Pens, Fens, Lens, Benz, Cleanse, Glens, Dens

As a side-note, Pakula should be commended for his dedication to office space veracity, making replicas of old phone books, and purchasing the exact same desks in the exact same shade of paint as the Washington Post office, at a reasonable expense for his backlot set, although one does have to ask the question: who on earth cares about that?

Again, no obvious reason for me not to recommend this even if I didn’t enjoy it. I’ll mark it up to mental distress from the tail end of my illness.