Tuesday, December 30, 2014

AFI Top 100: #77 "All the President's Men"

Robert Redford & Dustin Hoffman in All the President's Men (1976)

I'm a week late for this review, but I figure that, it having been Christmas and all, no one minded much. The #77 movie on the AFI Top 100 list is our first jump into the political realm. All the President's Men is an overt snapshot of politics as it has always been... and journalism as it once was.

The very true story of Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) and Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) as hungry, and inexperienced, investigative journalists at The Washington Post during the Nixon administration (early 1970's, for those less familiar with history). The plot kicks off with the infamous robbery and bugging of DNC headquarters at the Watergate building in Washington D.C., and it continues as the plucky Woodward and Bernstein struggle to piece the intrigue puzzle together.

There are inserts of details we know most about, though not as much as you'd expect. The appearance of history's most famous secret informant, Deep Throat (played by Hal Holbrook), is few and far between, since he serves only to keep our heroes on track. And they hit many roadblocks. As they weave together the scandal, the Editor of the paper, Ben Bradlee (Jason Robards) emerges as the real hero of this movie; for believing in their story and not backing down from the critics that aim to discredit his writers. The benefit of hindsight is knowing what these men don't: the scandal goes all the way to the top, and they are at the forefront of the story of the century.

The movie feels more like a political thriller than a historical retelling. I couldn't help but imagine Frank Underwood sitting in the Oval Office, plotting how to destroy these two pesky kids for being a thorn in his side. That fit perfectly with the constant state of paranoia the filmmakers put us through. Every time Woodward or Bernstein are just standing on the street, it feels like a bullet or a car or a bus is going to mow them down. We saw people lurking in the shadows who weren't there, and this served to show just how high the stakes really were. But unlike fictional stories of this vein, that's all it really wasparanoia, without much real physical threat.

That's kind of where things get wishy-washy for me. This is a very complicated story, with a lot of ins and outs and names to remember. In many ways, All the President's Men is more about how investigative journalism might be a thing of the pastof course, that wasn't what it was intended to be. Watching Woodward and Bernstein grasp at straws is astounding, and it bums me out when I think about how 24-hour news has destroyed this approach at journalism.

Yet the film can only show us so much during its limited time frame. Once our reporters are validated that they are actually on to something, we cut to a highlighted recount of how everything actually played out. I love the film leading up to this point, but am so disappointed when the momentum is halted and we don't get to see the end result.

Maybe this is because when this movie came out (1976), events were fresh in audiences' minds (events that culminated in 1974)... but that seems short-sighted on the part of the filmmakers. Now, forty years later, events don't seem so fresh. And audiences want to see how the world's most powerful man was discovered to be, for lack of a more appropriate term, a crook. The movie, unfortunately, feels a bit anti-climactic when you keep that in mind.

Despite that fact, the inner-workings of a national, influential newspaper portrayed in this film are fascinating. It makes 24-hour news networks seem like amateur, reality TV overseen by TMZ. Times have changed, and even though it wasn't intended, it's what this movie ends up being about. Politics will always be a dirty business; but news organizations used to mean something, and I can't help but miss what I really never got to see in my own life. Overall, this is a simple film that feels dated, and not in ways you'd expect. That might mean it doesn't have the staying power it once had, but only time will tell. Me, I can't say for sure, and don't feel inclined to come down on one side or another this time.

Rating:  ★★★ / 5 stars

[Watch the Trailer] | [Read More AFI Top 100 Reviews] | [images © Warner Brothers]

Check back next week for #76, Forrest Gump  or better yet, have your own viewing party and watch along with us!

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