Nov 5, 2008

All The President's Men (1976)

Every time this is on television, I put it on "just for a minute", and end up watching the whole thing. All the President's Men is perhaps the most exciting movie ever made with people on the phone for most of its running time. Director Alan J. Pakula is a master of low-key thrillers, sustaining a mood just with having people talk. But since this movie is about Watergate, and how Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein broke the story, one is reminded how true life can have the most fantastic stories of all. What holds me captive every time I watch it, is its remarkably complex story, as subplots burst out of every scene that the men dig deeper into the Watergate robbery, which would eventually lead to Nixon's resignation.

I thought it would be a darkly amusing film to watch on Election Day, considering that the crimes Tricky Dicky committed in his reign seem like chump change compared to the antics of the current administration that is mercifully leaving soon. Despite that the story becomes more serpentine as it goes along, the film seems deceptively simple, as many scenes play out in simple takes, music is seldom used to sustain suspense, and cinematographer Gordon Willis' signature underexposed look gives the everyday a feel of mystery. This is a textbook on how to make a terrific thriller without bombastic music, rapid editing for the attention-deficient, or pyrotechnics for the brain-free. Instead, here is a suspense film that refreshingly knows the story is the thing, and the subtle approach to the technical aspect creates the maximum effect.

Still, William Goldman's screenplay lends to a great character-driven film. Not only do Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman make indelible impressions as underdog reporters who futz their way to a Pulitzer, but the film is full of great character players who do so much with so little screen time: Ned Beatty, Lindsay Crouse, Martin Balsam, Jack Warden, Jason Robards (in his Oscar-winning role as the Post editor Ben Bradlee), and of course, Hal Holbrook in his fleeting appearances as Deep Throat. "Follow the money!"

They sure don't make them like this anymore.

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