Arts & Culture

Grimy Gold: All The President’s Men

Title: All the President’s Men

Year: 1976

Director: Alan J. Pakula

MPAA Rating: PG

Bernstein, after flipping through a couple notes on his desk, dials the White House Library and is greeted by an elderly lady on the other side.

“Hi. Carl Bernstein of the Washington Post. I was just wondering if you remember the names of any of the books that Howard Hunt checked out on Senator Kennedy.”

“I think I do remember,” the librarian replies affirmatively, and Bernstein grows a little hopeful. “He took out a whole bunch of material. Let me just go see.”

After a few minutes pass, Bernstein hears the click of the phone being picked up again on the other side, and he prepares his pen.

“What I said before? I was wrong. The truth is, I don’t have a card that Mr. Hunt took out any Kennedy material. I don’t remember—I do remember getting that material out for somebody, but it wasn’t Mr. Hunt.”

Bernstein stares at his partner, Bob Woodward, and they note the familiar sound of fear in their source’s voice. “Right,” Bernstein replies doubtfully.

There’s a frightful silence before she adds, “The truth is, I’ve never had any requests at all from Mr. Hunt.” Another silence, then she concludes, “The truth is, I don’t know Mr. Hunt.”

Blinking with realization, Bernstein decides to salvage what little he can from the source. “Uh, I was just wondering if you have any books—” Click and the call is dead. “Hello?”

Most of the attention from the incident dealt with in All the President’s Men thrived the most in the 70s, but as with the recent Spielberg newspaper drama The Post, it holds as much importance, if not more, nowadays. Even if you are or are not a supporter of President Trump, you can’t deny that he is a controversial figure at the very least, waging verbal wars with those he disagrees with, especially those in the mainstream media. One of many accusations against the media he and many others before him makes is the lawfulness of the media’s publication of so-called “government secrets.” The government may seem to have the highest and most powerful say in an action, but the press is what keeps it accountable. Who’s going to hold the government to the law if it breaks its own law?

There is a difference between publishing secrets to harm the country and keeping the government transparent for the people, although that line is very rarely definitive. And it is this dilemma that both All the President’s Men and The Post portray. Both were released in relevant political climates; both center on exposing a lie the government feeds to the American people, and both urge their audiences to stand up for their rights.

When it comes down to the particulars of the event, All the President’s Men largely assumes and relies on their audience’s knowledge of the Watergate scandal to fill in the facts they don’t outright explain, and for the 1970s, it was an advisable bet to take considering the event’s recency, but now, less than half of the population was even alive during the Watergate incident. It follows the now-famous task that two reporters, Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) and Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman, whom, ironically, the media has come back and destroyed him and his career, on account of the #MeToo movement), undertook in prying open the dam of Watergate revelations. What they do is a thankless duty, knocking on hundreds of doors, digging for information and writing against their deadlines to keep their sanity, only to be met with the same inflexible “no” and wind up in the same place they started. All they have are semi-informative expressions on their interrogatee’s faces to go by.

Alan J. Pakula’s direction is what barely brings this film together. I can see how easily each frame could have fallen into a monotonous and repetitive droll—and it does, often—but he brings it back with elaborate and unique staging. The writer, William Goldman (most known for his witty dialogue in The Princess Bride), pens a not-quite-so compelling, albeit tooth-and-nail accurate, story. It’s obvious he delved deep into the world of journalism and crafted what he understood of the journalistic world. The problem is that only sometimes do we understand what he understands about journalism. I can’t entirely blame him for that, though. The novel it was based on (in fact, a memoir written by the same two reporters) is weighed down by the same fault. All the President’s Men is a challenge of memory. A barrage of dates, names and facts are thrown at us—some stick, most don’t. In a scene near the end, Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman), as he questioning a worker, fishes out a notepad and a pen and blames his bad memory. These, a paper and a pen, seem to be necessary items while watching this movie.

Ultimately, it’s the realness of the environment that makes us invested in the story. Through each rejected phone call and each door slammed in their faces, we begin to ache for just one answered question that breaks the frustrating and colorless pattern as much as our two reporters ache for it. This is the reality for journalists—the wins journalists get are rare, but when they’re made, they become more than gold to the journalists. The movie is careful to take as few possible dramatic liberties with the story.

The realism presented in here also includes heavy language, as reviewer Paul Asay from PluggedIn put it about The Post, “as a newsroom vet myself, I know that not every journalist says ‘golly’ when things get stressful.” However, roughly half of the expletives come from a common term back then relating to a form of political sabotaging and pertaining to “rats.” Not that this fact necessarily softens the effect of the vulgarities, but it might. After all, All the President’s Men is—or if not, it should be—a necessary addition to education. As we, teenagers, begin to form minds and opinions of our own, we also need to understand that everyone is fallible, including our earthly authorities, and when it comes to it, we should step up to do the right thing. All the President’s Men encourages us to think independently, question everything and keep ourselves accountable, but above all, it challenges us to dutifully keep our authorities accountable as well.

Quality: 7/10

Content: 5.5/10


Asay, Paul. “The Post Movie Review.” PluggedIn, PluggedIn, 22 Dec. 2017, www.pluggedin.com/movie-reviews/post-2017.


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