Alan Pakula, director;Warner Home Video;
Widescreen & Pan & Scan; Dolby Digital Mono; 139 Minutes
Many remember Richard Nixon as the dark force of American politics, and his era ended in shame with his post-Watergate resignation. The agents of his fall were two dogged Washington Post reporters, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, on whose book this 1976 film was based. They are played by Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman, respectively. Both lead performances are restrained and unaffected, though Hoffman makes the most of the reporter’s chain smoking in his dramatic business.
Jason Robards won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, but it could easily have gone to Hal Holbrook as Deep Throat; I suspect the un-star-like performances of the leads, excellent as they were, simply didn’t have enough flamboyance for Hollywood.
What distinguishes All The President’s Men is its meticulous and logical script, which takes us through the stages of detective work that led to the final story. The undercurrent of threat from those running the coverup is a recurring dramatic device well used. TV footage is effectively integrated into the film to underscore the reality of it all, reminding us that this all really happened, and was unprecedented in a democratic government. Today we can marvel at the irony of a society that turns criminals and spies into media celebrities. E. Howard Hunt, whom I’m reading about currently in Norman Mailer’s fascinating spy novel, Harlot’s Ghost became one, and even Nixon was rehabilitated; is this the American public’s extreme cynicism, or just blindsight in hindsight?
All The President’s Men did not win an Oscar for direction, though it probably should have. Like Oliver Stone in JFK, Pakula shows the ability to make sense of and lay out a complex story in a logical, believable, and dramatic way, while not allowing the actors to overwhelm the story, or vice versa.
It did win one for sound. Though the audio is mono, it is crisp and atmospheric, the background sounds of the parking garage where Woodward and Deep Throat meet menacing, and the overall mix finding the mood of every scene. The DVD editors managed to cram 139 minutes onto each side (the limit is supposed to be 133), this probably made possible by grabbing for video the bits that might have otherwise gone to 5-channel sound. In the new trade of DVD “authoring”, they call this process “bit budgeting”.
My wife, a novelist, journalist and onetime reporter, marvelled at all those clattering typewriters in the newsroom, and how things had changed since that time, to Wordperfect and lap-tops. We also liked the period look, the jeans and long hair and just that 70s feel, which added to the enjoyment of what is a very good film that now looks authentic rather than dated. Not too many political films can manage that.
And finally, the DVD transfer is so good that you can see on the screen the artifacts of 70s film technology, those little wiggly things, and scratches and so on, but they don’t take anything away from the clear and natural colour of the print. It’s a very high-resolution picture in a moderate 1.85:1 letterbox that offers more visual sweep than the pan-and-scan on the other side.