BR: All the President’s Men (1976)

February 24, 2011 | By

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Film: Excellent / DVD Transfer: Excellent / DVD Extras: Excellent

Label: Warner Home Video / Region: All / Released: February 15, 2011

Genre: Docu-Drama / Political Thriller

Synopsis: Classic docu-drama chronicling the the Watergate scandal in 1973, as covered by Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein..

Special Features: Audio commentary by star Robert Redford / 3 Featurettes (2003): “Telling the Truth About Lies: The Making of All the President’s Men” (28:22) + “Out of the Shadows: The Man Who Was Deep Throat” (16:21) + “Woodward and Bernstein: Lighting the Fire” (17:54) / Vintage Featurette (1976): “Pressure and the Press: The Making of All the President’s Men” (10:05) / Vintage 1976 Jason Robards interview excerpt from Dinah, hosted by Dinah Shore (7:10) / Alan J. Pakula trailer gallery / DigiBook

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Review:

1977 Oscars for Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Jason Robards), Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Best Sound, Best Writing – Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium (William Goldman)

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There’s a moment in Robert Redford’s commentary track when he describes the film’s impact on new generations who know very little about the Watergate scandal, yet see similar abuses of power in present day administrations, either on a federal, state level or municipal level.

Corruption is and always will be ageless, but perhaps the reason the film is able to impact so precisely is due to the detail and fidelity the filmmakers maintained in dramatizing the stages where the threads of mismanagement and law-breaking – going right up to the Oval Office – were discovered by then-news cubs Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein.

The pair’s eponymous book became a best-seller and their work for the Washington Post awarded them Pulitzer Prizes in 1973, but the film actually begins the moment the two reporters were put together by their editor, Ben Bradlee, and in spite of their differing personalities, found common ground and achieved remarkable results through dogged research, initially putting out a series of newspaper items that expanded into headline pieces, and preceded the writing of their famous tome on the complexities of a top-down corruption plan where the Republican administration of Richard Nixon attempted to discredit and keep tabs on the Democrats.

That’s an oversimplification, but there are two reasons the film is worth 138 mins. of one’s time: it’s great drama, and it’s a fascinating examination of dirty politics. It’s also a time capsule and record of an event that subsequent generations have heard of, but likely aren’t familiar with because Watergate has sort of gone beyond the margins, and faded into ancient political history.

The concept of the investigative reporter germinated from Bernstein and Woodward’s actions, but as Linda Ellerbee describes in the “Woodward and Bernstein: Lighting the Fire” featurette, the press as an institution has faltered in the public’s eye: lumped into tabloid press and news headed by personalities rather than the stories, the institution that’s supposed to keep ill-behaviour in check is largely distrusted or blemished with public cynicism, and it makes the film a curious glimpse into a more genteel period when reporters could call up subjects or ring doorbells and actually conduct interviews and not be regarded as potential telemarketers or invasive tabloid writers out to get the month’s ‘gotcha’ quota.

It’s equally surreal to see facts and quotations derived from note-taking, when today’s era demands more than an audio recording, but full video due to the convergence of media streams and the need to exploit news in various digestible permutations: print for the scholarly, detail-oriented readership, audio for portable podcasts, and video for the websites, with embedded ad links and overlaid ad text to keep the news medium solvent.

Dramatically, the film still grabs the viewer and includes him / her as courtside observer, because everyone is filled with multiple levels of grey. The reporters become bullies in getting subjects to talk and potentially hang themselves, the subjects became complicit due to greed or plain fear from superiors, and the lead perpetrators happened to recognize flaws in a system where power could be abused, and dirty plays could be covered up with layers of banal bureaucratic décor.

Redford admits he had to be called into the edit room and supervise a major overhaul with six film editors to bring an unwieldy film down to a manageable running time and meet a locked release date. There are scenes that run slow, but they’re ballsy for recreating fact-finding moments in single takes and long shots, relying on solid performances, steady direction, and a rock-solid script by William Goldman – arguably the finest political intrigue screenplay ever written.

Warner Home Video’s Blu-ray sports a lovely transfer of the film, with sharp details, superb colours, and fine details in Gordon Willis’ eerie, dim cinematography (including real locations shot with existing practical lighting).

All of the extras from the 2006 DVD have been ported over, and none of the featurettes are fawning fluff. The studio recognized the film’s importance and the featurettes cover the film’s genesis – an idea stemming from Redford – to production; a featurette on Woodward and Bernstein; and the legacy of the reporters’ work, in terms of what they achieved for their profession, and how journalism as been poisoned by corporations interested in content and personalities rather than factual news.

Redford’s audio commentary is generally steady, and although some silent gaps begin do appear after the 90 mins. mark, he provides great insight into the journalists as characters, the casting, director Alan J. Pakula, and the four-year odyssey that spanned Redford’s interest in the early news items to the finished film.

All the President’s Men isn’t as snappy or audience-pleasing as Ron Howard’s 1994 anti-gotcha-drama The Paper, a benefactor of the 1976 film, but it’s an American classic, and one of the finest films to emerge from the seventies.

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© 2011 Mark R. Hasan

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External References:

IMDB Soundtrack AlbumComposer Filmography

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Buy from:

Amazon.com – All the President’s Men [Blu-ray]

Amazon.ca – All the President’s Men [Blu-ray]

Amazon.co.uk – All the President’s Men [Blu-ray] [US Import]

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