All the President’s Men (1976)

“It was a Haldeman operation. The whole business was run by Haldeman, the money, everything. It won’t be easy getting at him, he was insulated, you’ll have to find out how. Mitchell started doing covert stuff before anyone else, the list is longer than anyone can imagine… it involves the entire U.S. Intelligence Community. FBI… CIA… Justice… it’s incredible. Cover-up had little to do with Watergate, it was mainly to protect the covert operations. It leads everywhere. Get out your notebook, there’s more. Your lives are in danger.”

‘All the President’s Men’, directed by Alan J. Pakula in 1976, is a political drama based on the exposure of the Watergate scandal that brought down the Nixon presidency. Firstly, an admission: this was going to be ‘Alphaville’, a 1965 movie directed by Jean-Luc Godard, but three quarters of the way through that dark and minimalist dystopian science fiction film the DVD froze. So instead, I’m writing about a movie I’ve seen multiple times and I’ve one that I’ve studied, but one that encapsulates some of the chilly dystopian revelations of Godard’s film. Alan Pakula’s movie, whilst based on a real story written by the reporters themselves, offers a surprisingly balanced depiction of the characters and events. The two reporters at the centre of the story: Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward are shown at times to be heroic, but at times to be aggressive in their search for the truth. As with its generic cousins ‘Klute’, ‘The Conversation’ and ‘The Parallax View’, surveillance: secret filming and audio bugging, form a central part of the plot. It would be natural for the film to frame Nixon as the bugger-in-chief, he being a president so obsessed with surveillance that he bugged himself, but instead it is Woodward and Bernstein who adopt Nixonian tactics. In contrast Nixon is contained through the film by being shown on television screens in the press office. The feeling is that of tables having been turned – the camera stalks the reporters as they stalk the President. It’s a precisely shot, authentic film, with a line in transforming boring offices and political spaces into something symbolic, either dark nodding towards the sinister world behind the Washington machine, or, as with the famous overhead shot in the Library of Congress, labyrinthine, highlighting the tangled skein of the conspiracy at the heart of the scandal.

Would I recommend it? Yes – it’s a smart, informative movie that also thrills. Watch with Oliver Stone’s ‘Nixon’ to see the other side of the Watergate scandal.

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