Friday, 8 April 2011

Flashback: All the President’s Men

I’m doing a journalism writing course this semester at University, and on Wednesday our lecturer made us watch Pakula’s 1976 All the President’s Men. It’s a fine example of journalists at work since the adaptation is so devoid of the most obvious Hollywood-ization that most true-stories have today – sometimes, I must admit, to my exasperation.
Hoffman and Redford are two of the most conventionally “seventies” actors and the idea of them working each other is spirited. The thing, the best thing about All the President’s Men is also the worst thing about it. In its staunch upholding of the truth it seems to be devoid of characters, which is – incidentally – what makes me such an admirer of Hoffman and Redford here. They have little to work with, but they make it work excellently. I like Redford, but even at his best I always like him with reservations. And, he’s not at his best here – but he’s good. 
The two manage to make simple interviews come off as well acted arcs; the best of which occurs opposite Jane Alexander in a head-scratcher supporting actress nomination. She’s much better than the role, but it’s still one of the oddest acting nominations I can recall. Oddly, Robards, with a similarly small role manages to carve something much more indelible. No, not worthy of that Oscar, but oftentimes one of the highpoints of the film reminding you that these are real people and not just the means to an end in bringing down a government.
Like so many films that retain that quintessential feeling of Americana I often wonder how much more I’d like All the President’s Men if I was an actual American. To its credit, though, what emerges loudest from the narrative is not a pride that is nationalistic but journalistic – garishly, at times. Just like many would say that Saving Private Ryan offers a ferociously authentic look at war All the President’s Men does the same for journalism – although not ferociously. It’s content with showing the unglamorous nature of the job.
This is perhaps what makes the film itself sort of paradoxical for me. It doesn’t maintain the major tenets of the cinema, it’s palpably a non-fiction piece but yet its cinematic aspects are excellently done, its cinematography and score for example – though unobtrusive in both cases – is excellent. But, remember that adage about things not being as good as the sum of their parts? I get that distinctive feeling with All the President’s Men. It’s a fine example of filmmaking that is immediately admirable, both for its cinematic attributes and for the way it pushes boundaries with the form of storytelling – the screenplay is a beauty. But, there’s something distinctly cold about it, soulless even – but I still won’t deny that it’s a fine film.
What do you think of Pakula's film?


Joanna Arcieri said...

I love any movie about journalism. All the President's Men is so great because it is about arguably the biggest journalism story ever. You're right that it instills such a sense of journalistic pride among newsies. You really get a sense of why journalism matters, why newsrooms were great before new media threatened them. I love the use of diegetic sound in the newsroom.

The Oscar nominations, in part, stem from the fact that this movie is about such an important moment in American history barely five years after it happened. Nice write-up!

Brandon said...

OMFG, we are watching this movie in Film History class, and watched a huge chunck today! That's so weird! I think it's amazing!

TomS said...

Andrew, I enjoy your perspective on this movie. The Watergate story was such a HUGE item in the U.S. in the mid 1970's that audiences carried that knowledge with them into the movie. After the passage of years, I think even yournger American audiences now would have a similar reaction to yours. It's sort of a clinical film. But it did manage to create an aura of suspense even while we all know the outcome of the story.

Jane Alexander was enjoying much popularity with moviegoers and was well-liked by her peers. Her nomination was not unexpected....although she was not expected to win.

But then, neither was the eventual winner, Beatrice Straight, whose brief appearance in "Network" holds the record for the shortest screen time to win the award.

Peter Chan said...

yeah... this fo sho makes me miss seeing robert redford acting in films.

Film Intel said...

Like Tom above, I enjoyed reading a different perspective on this, especially one that looks at it from the journalism angle.

In that regard I think the film not only tries to be brutally honest about the everyday nature of much of investigative journalism but Pakula also captures the excitement and tension of being hot on a story, as well as the staid old caution offered by old pros like Robbards and others when the young guns thing they're on to 'something huge'.

The payoff in this is the fact that, of course, in this case, the young guns were right!

I love ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN. Increasingly, I'm starting to believe that its my favourite film.

simoncolumb said...

I have only recently watched this film for the first time. I really is quite the head-scratchder. The statment about how it was made "barely five years after it happened." also connects the film to recent releases such as UNITED 93, THE SOCIAL NETWORK and 127 HOURS which are so close to the actual situation its almost discomforting.

I think that what is incredible about this is how it shows the nature of Investigative Journalism. It goes well with the fifth season of THE WIRE whereby you are shown the difficulties the press have - and yet, ALL THE PRESIDENTS MEN show the hey-day of the Print-Press a medium that, unfortunately, is dying out.

Great write up!

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

joana which is why i have such great admiration for it even if i don't love. it's painstakingly dedicated to its subject, which is something a number of films can't boast about.

brandon glad you're a fan. i love when movies like this have arduous fans.

but, tom seriously. don't you find the nomination weird? i mean, she did the best possible with the role but each time i see it i think WHAT was she nominated for exactly?

peter yup, redford is a goodie. he reminds me of brad pitt, even though i think (prepare for libel) that pitt is a better actor - though, of course, redford is the bigger "star".

film intel that's one of the noteworthy things about pakula's direction. he makes things like waiting in a lobby "thriller-esque".

simon interesting point, i wonder if the fact that it was made so soon after the issue worked for or against it.

TomS said...

Alexander's nomination is simply a popular choice. I agree, there was nothing about the role nor the performance that would make it stand out for recognition. But this happens an awful lot with the Oscars. Especially in a period (like 1975-76) when there were so few worthy female roles to choose from.