All the President’s Men - Show time with Mitrajit Bhattacharya

Two green reporters working for the Washington Post, Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) and Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman), research the botched 1972 burglary of the Democratic Party Headquarters at the Watergate apartment complex. With the help of a mysterious source, the two reporters make a connection between the burglars and a White House staffer. Despite dire warnings about their safety, the duo follows the money and unravel the biggest political scandal in the history of the United States of America.

The 1976 classic is even truer to the craft of journalism than probably to the art of storytelling, very rare filmmaking style in the 70s. The movie is accurate about the processes used by investigative reporters, and that can overwhelm the narrative for many. Far ahead of its times, when complex documentary style storytelling was not common, dealing with so many names and facts, coincidences, lucky breaks, false leads, denials, evasions, and even truth could be heavy for viewers. These details led up to the Watergate Scandal and eventually the Nixon resignation. The movie is however more about the journey than the destination. Many years later, Zodiac (reviewed earlier) did follow a similar storytelling format, but now the audiences have also matured considerably.

The movie provides the most authentic work of real journalists in a feature film. And it succeeds brilliantly in capturing myriad emotions of exhilaration, paranoia, self-doubt, and courage that permeated the WaPo office as its two young reporters went after the might of a presidency. Inspite of William Goldman's screenplay depending heavily on dialogues- a series of scenes of people talking to each other- director Alan J. Pakula has done a fabulous job of keeping the narrative engaging and pace taut.

The film begins, just like the real Watergate episode, with five men breaking into the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) on June 1, 1972. The DNC was based in the Watergate office, hotel and residential complex in Washington DC. The story is first taken up by junior journalist Woodward as a minor incident. Soon, as things start to blow up in all directions, Ben Bradlee (Jason Robards), the executive editor of the WaPo, brings the more experienced Bernstein on board to work alongside Woodward.

One has to marvel at the painstakingly detailed investigation by Woodward and Bernstein in days before the mobile phones and the internet. Their most mysterious source, though never revealed in the film, was known as Deep Throat (Hal Holbrook), a high government official turned whistleblower, nicknamed after a notorious pornographic film of the time. His identity was not publicly confirmed for almost 30 years after it was made, till in 2005, a former FBI associate director Mark Felt finally admitted it had been him.

As Woodward and Bernstein continue to dig, they uncover extensive evidence of dirty tricks and activity like stuffing ballot boxes, planting spies in the opposition and running up fake campaign literature. The conspiracy seems to suck in nearly everyone in Washington. In real life, 69 people were indicted as a result of the Watergate investigations, and 48 pleaded or were found guilty. The biggest outcome was President Richard M Nixon’s resignation on August 9, 1974 – still a unique occurrence in America’s long political history.

For all the fans of Redford and Hoffman, they watched Woodward and Bernstein and nothing more. There is nothing Hollywoodish in All the President’s Men and that’s the biggest win for a movie made way back in 1976.



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