Judge Ryan Keefer spent a lot of time trying to avoid any obvious political comparisons when writing this review. You know you want to see how good a job he did.
Our review of All the President's Men (Blu-ray) Special Edition, published November 26th, 2013, is also available.
"You tell me what you know, and I'll confirm. I'll keep you in the right direction if I can, but that's all. Just…follow the money…"
What has become one of the most significant events not only in the last quarter century, but in all of American history, transpired during the Watergate break-in. The events of the break-in that led to the resignation of Richard Nixon were documented by Washington Post reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward in a book that Robert Redford (The Sting, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid) produced into a major motion picture. Way back in 1997, Warner released a barren version of the film on video; with recent events (specifically, the 2005 revelation that high-ranking FBI official Mark Felt was Woodward's secret "Deep Throat" informant) the need for a Special Edition came around. So just how special is it?
Facts of the Case
When a group of Cuban and American workers were caught breaking into the Democratic National Headquarters in the Watergate offices in 1972, a young Bob Woodward (Redford) is told to go down to the courthouse on a Saturday morning to find out more about the burglars and the case. He begins to notice things that seem a bit out of place for a normal burglary proceeding. From the Post's offices, Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman, The Graduate, Midnight Cowboy) also seems to share the same instinct, and after some initial head bumping, the two decide to work together to try to get to the bottom of things.
Through their investigation, Woodward and Bernstein manage to discover that there were monies that were sent from Nixon fundraisers to the Committee to Re-elect the President (appropriately nicknamed CREEP) and that those monies were deposited into bank accounts for some of the burglars. Using the advice of Woodward's secret high-ranking government source nicknamed "Deep Throat" (Hal Holbrook, Magnum Force) to focus on the financial transactions, the reporters managed to talk with several people who worked within CREEP, including bookkeeper Judy Hoback (Jane Alexander, The Great White Hope) and treasurer Hugh Sloan (Stephen Collins, 7th Heaven). With their information (some of it obtained from reluctant sources), they were able to ascertain that high-ranked Nixon officials controlled CREEP finances, with the intent of using those monies for less than ethical (or legal) activities. During the reporting, Woodward and Bernstein frequently checked in (and were sometimes given reality checks by) Managing Editor Howard Simons (Martin Balsam, Psycho), local news editor Harry Rosenfeld (Jack Warden, From Here to Eternity) and Executive Editor Ben Bradlee (Jason Robards in an Oscar-winning performance). With their help and guidance, Woodward and Bernstein took the story far beyond anyone's expectations.
In terms of real-life events, I was born weeks after the Watergate break-in, and my brother was born weeks before the Nixon resignation, so you'll have to bear with me if I was noticeably distracted during both events, and was forced to use All the President's Men as a bit of a crutch to my historical knowledge of Watergate activities. But the thing that strikes me about the film is just how effective it is at portraying what was the probable surveillance of Woodward and Bernstein. There are a lot of wide shots watching the pair from a distance, working in the Post offices or leaving various downtown buildings. With Alan Pakula's (Presumed Innocent) direction and Gordon Willis' (The Godfather) cinematography, a lot of those shots and many scenes were shot using natural light, so it's a very effective portrait of the lengths the reporters had to go through to get to the truth. The most effective example is of a very suspenseful six-minute shot of Redford at a desk attempting to get some more information from a source, where Willis' camera comes in for a tight shot at the slowest of paces.
One of the reasons why All the President's Men is standard material for high school journalism classes is that the reporting by Woodward and Bernstein is as much about the failures as it is the successes. A significant amount of time is spent watching the reporters having doors closed in their faces by unwilling subjects. In a scene near the end of the movie, a published story by the pair is inaccurate, and the historical footage of Nixon officials slamming the story quickly follows.
However, the downside of why All the President's Men is standard material for high school journalism classes is that many of the people who see it have stars in their eyes without seemingly acknowledging the work it takes to mark those successes. Is there anything wrong with All the President's Men inspiring so many people to take up a noble profession like investigative news reporting? Of course not, but the downside of so many people being inspired to become journalists is that their motivations usually seem to be that they want to "make a difference." In the wake of Jayson Blair at the New York Times and Jack Kelley at USA Today making up stories, the urge to make a difference within a 24-hour news cycle has caused those—and who knows how many others—to cut journalistic and ethical corners in order to one up the competition. And if you write a book with ginned up facts, God help you if you appear on the Oprah show for one reason or another. Learn the lesson and make a difference using research and hard work, like Woodward and Bernstein used to do.
In the subsequent years since Watergate, Woodward has continued work in investigative reporting, some of which has been a little less than tactful, and has seemed to advance Woodward's career than anything else. When the 2005 Vanity Fair article was published, there was mention of a subsequent book by Felt's family as a companion. Woodward published a rushed book called "The Secret Man" about his relationship with Felt, whether any proceeds were given to Felt's family is unknown by this judge. Claims of fabrications of a deathbed interview with Reagan CIA Director William Casey (for 1987's "Veil") have hounded Woodward, along with rumors of similar issues.
What is probably the gem of the two-disc set is a commentary featuring Redford in what I believe may be his first. In it, he talks about the production, the reporters, and any differences between historical events and dramatic license. There are some gaps in his commentary, but what he says is usually informative. Any new material on the second disc is by Holbrook, starting with Telling the Truth About Lies: The Making of All the President's Men is an almost half hour examination into the making of the film with new interviews from Redford, Hoffman, Woodward and Bernstein, along with other key players. All of the historical players share their thoughts on the actors and vice versa, while everyone shares their thoughts on the events. The production aspects of the film, notably Goldman's thoughts on the script and Willis' thoughts on the cinematography are included, and overall, it's a good look at the film, then and now. Woodward and Bernstein: Lighting the Fire is a 15-minute look at the real-life authors, and notable journalist figures from past and present talk about what it did for journalism, and where journalism is today. Even famed journalism expert Oliver Stone (JFK, Nixon) shares his thoughts on media conglomerates in America today. If there's a feature designed to provoke discussion, this would be the one.
Out of the Shadows: The Man Who Was Deep Throat is another 15-minute look at some of Felt's biographical data, and the relationship and ground rules that were set between Felt and Woodward. In a larger sense, the place, role and purpose of a confidential informant with a journalist are discussed here as well. Some dated material rounds out the set, starting with a 10-minute electronic press kit and a seven-minute interview segment with Robards on the Dinah Shore show. Trailers for selected works of Pakula complete the set.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
I'm not asking for top notch audio and video in a gritty '70s film, but having just a mono audio track for such a significant film of this, well, it just doesn't seem right. And a commentary with Woodward and Bernstein may have been a nice novelty to include in the package.
An excellent film that effectively documents a changing event in the American political landscape. Those who have the old Warner version, double dipping is encouraged. For those who don't have it in their library, what are you waiting for? Get it!
Not guilty. Follow the money all the way back to your video library. Court is adjourned.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Commentary with Robert Redford
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