Ben Bradlee: “We’re under a lot of pressure, you know, and you put us there. Nothing’s riding on this except the, uh, first amendment to the Constitution, freedom of the press, and maybe the future of the country.”
“All the President’s Men” (1976) just keeps getting better with time, and on the eve of the most momentous election in our lifetime, this movie is so of the moment. These are some of its themes: freedom of the press, loss of faith in government, questioning of leadership and knowing the official explanations of things do not match the reality. It creates an atmosphere of mistrust that – when I first saw the film as a young man – I felt so removed from. Now it’s all I feel. The Watergate scandal inspired so many paranoid thrillers of the 70’s and so many anti-establishment fictional main characters. This is the film that went directly to the real-life events and combined it with one of the best screenplays ever written, a dynamite director with a cracker-jack cast. It’s a doozy. “Forget the myths the media has created about the White House,” says the infamous ‘Deep Throat’ in the movie. “These are not very bright guys, and things got out of hand.”
It is based on the landmark work written by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward – the two young journalists from The Washington Post who were assigned to cover a break-in at the Watergate office complex in June 1972. In a series of articles following, Bernstein and Woodward linked the burglars with a massive slush fund and attorney general John Mitchell. Their discoveries led to further investigations of President Richard Nixon who eventually resigned in 1974 in order to avoid dealing with an impeachment. They received the Pulitzer Prize for their reporting. Their book – which was a major bestseller upon release – made use of their extensive notes kept while writing those pieces for the Post. It documents their dedication to the facts and getting to the truth of things. Before its publication, Robert Redford bought the rights to the film for close to half a million, and enlisted William Goldman to write the adaptation and Alan J. Pakula to direct.
What I admire after a multitude of viewings is how imagistic the film is. There are a lot of facts thrown about – details upon details – and a lot of characters. Pakula finds a balance between realism and formalism. He understood he didn’t want a documentary style. Instead he develops – with cinematographer Gordon Willis – a visual representation of the mental state of the journalists and the atmosphere. He layers an environment upon the wordy script.
The Washington Post newsroom is a long hallway – with the reporters’ cubicles and the fluorescent lights above that are arranged to create a linear perspective. The white lights radiate a harshness upon the action. The partitions are in bright red and blue – and the chairs are glowingly yellow. This is a setting without shadows – and where everything seems to be exposed. You’re able to see the action of Woodward on the phone in the foreground – and Bernstein listening a couple of partitions away. There’s also a crispness to the look of it all which matches the reporter’s way of seeing and tackling things. Mysteries and thrillers traditionally utilize shadows and low-key lighting. Goldman’s script unfolds like a detective story with Bernstein and Woodward uncovering clues.
The ceiling overwhelms our protagonists. At times Pakula will minimize their size in comparison with their surroundings in the office. The magnitude of the building is in stark contrast with their diminished physical stature. We can feel its weight hovering over them – the pressure and responsibility. “I can’t do the reporting for my reporters, which means I have to trust them, and I hate trusting anybody,” their editor Ben Bradlee tells them.
The scenes with “Deep Throat” take place in a vast, mostly empty parking lot. Now, there’s darkness and shadows – and lots of empty murkiness around them. Pay attention to the first scene between Bernstein and Judith Hoback Miller (Jane Alexander) – who was the housekeeper for the Committee for the Re-Election of the President – the moment she gives him the initials of the people involved. “I don’t want to say anymore,” she says. The camera goes to a high angle – and the wide shot captures her at the left side of the screen, her face covered by the living room lamp. There will be other expressive shots like a hovering aerial shot of cars pulling out of parking lots or over Woodward and Bernstein systematically studying information at the Library. The camera will continue pulling up and showing up from way up above – and symbolically – the repercussions of determinedly seeking the truth.
Bernstein: “How can you going at something past the point when you believe it?”
Woodward: “We just have to start all over again.”
Available to stream on HBO Max and to rent on Microsoft, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, Apple TV, Amazon Prime, FandangoNOW, Redbox and DIRECTV.
Screenplay by William Goldman
Based on the book by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward
Directed by Alan J. Pakula
Starring Robert Redford, Dustin Hoffman, Jack Warden, Martin Balsam, Hal Holbrook, and Jason Robards
Bringing “All the President’s Men” to the Screen
William Goldman… had already written three Robert Redford movies when the actor contacted him in early winter of 1974 and asked him to write a fourth: an adaptation of Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward’s forthcoming book, a firsthand account of the two young Washington Post reporters’ Pulitzer Prize-winning investigation of the Watergate scandal. Redford was the one doing the asking because he was producing the movie under the aegis of his company, Wildwood Enterprises—Redford was among the first wave of post-studio-system, post-auteur-movement movie stars who, in the late nineteen-sixties and early nineteen-seventies, began taking direct control of their careers, forming companies that would choose projects; select co-stars, directors, and writers; and participate in the casting, writing, and promotion of their movies. But Redford’s involvement in “All the President’s Men” was unusually complex and deep, predating not just Goldman’s involvement but also the conception of the book itself. By most accounts, Redford is a big reason why the book—which launched Bob Woodward’s iconic career as the first modern “star” reporter and permanently changed the public’s understanding of journalism—assumed its innovative form, focussing on the reporters and the Post rather than Nixon and the White House. But it was Goldman, in the crowning achievement of his long, successful career as a novelist and screenwriter, who used his screenplay to forge the modern myth of the reporter as hero. The Watergate investigation was still ongoing, in 1972, when Woodward received a surprise phone call from Redford. “He was interested in the personal story of trying to figure out what happened, and our quest,” Woodward recalled, in a 2006 documentary about the making of the film. Dick Snyder, of Simon & Schuster, had purchased the book rights to the reporters’ story through the agent David Obst. The blockbuster fifty-five-thousand-dollar deal, as Michael Korda, the former editor-in-chief of Simon & Schuster, wrote in his memoir, “transformed [nonfiction] book publishing into a red-hot part of media.” Redford, according to most accounts, influenced the crucial decision to focus the narrative on the reporters themselves. “When we sat down to write a book, the book that we started to write was not about us; it was about Watergate,” Bernstein said. “Woodward came up to me one day and said he’d gotten a call from Redford, and I said, ‘What the hell about?’ And he said, well, he thinks the story is really us.”
Redford had very precise—and very cinematic—ideas about how the story should be told and why the reporters’ identities and character were important. “One guy was a Wasp; the other guy was a Jew. One guy was a Republican; the other guy was a radical liberal. They didn’t really care for each other, but they had to work together. And I thought, that dynamic is character-driven, and I liked that,” Redford said. Goldman agreed, and, once he had committed to adapting the book, spent hours with Woodward and Bernstein, trying to understand how best to transform them into movie characters. “Woodward was a fabulous help to me,” Goldman said. “What was tricky was trying to make the story hold…This was just two guys plodding along. The whole movie was risky; nobody had any idea the movie would work.” But despite the temptation to glamorize the story, Goldman insisted on trying to be accurate. “I was terrified because you knew that everybody who was going to talk about this film had, at one time or another, been in a newsroom. Every power on television—they all began in newsrooms. And we knew if we Hollywood-ed it up, we would be in terrible trouble,” he said. But “Hollywood-ing it up” became inevitable when Warner Bros., protecting their investment in the property, demanded that Redford appear in the movie, something the actor insists—perhaps protesting too much¬—that he had never intended to do. Redford had to bridge the gap between his own persona and Woodward’s affect, which was very different. “On the surface, Bob appeared to be just perfect. You just knew his lawn was cut. And there was really careful, slower speech, well thought out, very humble, very polite,” Redford said. “Finally, what I came to the conclusion of was that he was a man of just sheer hard work, he was obsessed with hard work, but the exterior of him, which probably came from his Midwest background and being a Republican, by party, might hide some other thing. . . . And what I concluded was that the thing that was submerged was a killer instinct. He would not let Bernstein get ahead with an assumption, and that was tension. But that was also Woodward’s way of making sure that when you got down to the moment, he could put the knife in, in the right way.” (newyorker.com)
Robert Redford Reflects on “All the President’s Men”
‘Accuracy was the big, big objective’ For…Redford, it’s an unusual opportunity to look back on a film he remains proud of. Redford, who co-produced, was largely responsible for the movie getting made. He spent four years on “President’s Men,” and first approached Woodward and Bernstein while they were still working on their book by the same name. It was even Redford’s idea to tell the story from the journalists’ perspective — which the reporters quickly adopted, refashioning their book to focus more on their experience. “Nixon had already resigned and the held opinion [in Hollywood] was ‘No one cares. No one wants to hear about this,”’ Redford says. “And I said, ‘No, it’s not about Nixon. It’s about something else. It’s about investigative journalism and hard work.”’ Soon, director Alan Pakula (“The Parallax View”) and Hoffman signed on, as did Jason Robards, who won an Oscar for his legendary, “Woodstein!”-shouting performance as Post editor-in-chief Ben Bradlee. Redford and Hoffman spent weeks researching their roles, hanging out with Post reporters at work. Extreme lengths were taken for realism, including building a replica of the paper’s newsroom — and even littering it with real Post paper trash. “Accuracy was the big, big objective in making the film,” Redford says. “We had to be accurate, otherwise we would fall under that perception that Hollywood was messing around with a very vital event.” (today.com)
About Co-Author Bob Woodward
Bob Woodward was born on March 26, 1943, in Geneva, Illinois…Woodward grew up in Wheaton, a suburb of Chicago, where his father was a prominent jurist. It was thought that he would follow his father into the legal profession when he enrolled at Yale University on a naval Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) scholarship. After receiving a bachelor’s degree in history and English literature in 1965, Woodward began a five-year tour of duty as a communications officer. Upon his return, he was accepted (1970) at Harvard Law School. He chose not to pursue a law degree, however. Instead, he petitioned the editors of The Washington Post for an unpaid two-week internship. While none of the stories he submitted was printed, the editors saw potential in the aspiring reporter and referred him to the Montgomery County Sentinel, a weekly paper in suburban Maryland. Within a year Woodward had polished his skills enough that the Post was willing to give him another chance. Woodward had been covering the police beat for nine months when a call came in about a burglary at the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate complex. Working with Bernstein, a fellow Post reporter, Woodward eventually connected the break-in to the highest levels of the administration of U.S. Pres. Richard Nixon. For Woodward and Bernstein’s reporting, the Post was awarded the 1973 Pulitzer Prize for public service. The names Woodward and Bernstein became virtually synonymous with investigative journalism, and their book, “All the President’s Men” (1974), topped best-seller lists. The 1976 film version of the book, with Woodward portrayed by Robert Redford, was also a success.
Woodward continued his work at the Post and was named assistant managing editor in 1979. In the following years, however, he became better known for his books than for his newspaper reporting. Exposés on personalities as varied as comedian John Belushi and former U.S. vice president Dan Quayle drew both admiration and criticism, with reviewers praising his ability to unearth volumes of information while disparaging his tendency to dwell on sordidness. His later material, however, focused on hard news and the power and politics of Washington. Woodward led a team that earned another Pulitzer for the Post in 2002 for the paper’s coverage of the repercussions of the September 11 attacks in the United States in 2001. That year he released the first in a series of books that offered an insider’s look at the administration of Pres. George W. Bush. “Bush at War” (2002) profiled the personalities who shaped the American military response in Afghanistan, while “Plan of Attack” (2004) covered the period leading up to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. (See Iraq War.) “State of Denial” (2006), a departure from the generally complimentary tone found in the previous two works, provided a scathing dissection of the missteps and unheeded advice that continued to undermine the administration’s war efforts. His fourth volume in the series, “The War Within” (2008), offered a harsh assessment of the president. Woodward next focused on the administration of Pres. Barack Obama. In “”Obama’s Wars” (2010) he discussed divisions within the White House concerning the Afghanistan War policy, and in “The Price of Politics” (2012) he cast attention on the struggles between the administration and Congress over fiscal matters. In “Fear: Trump in the White House” (2018) and “Rage” (2020) Woodward presented a highly critical account of Donald Trump’s presidency; the latter work included a series of interviews with Trump. (britannica.com)
Woodward made crucial contributions to two Pulitzer Prizes won by The Washington Post. First he and Bernstein were the lead reporters on Watergate and the Post won the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service in 1973. Woodward also was the main reporter for the Post’s coverage of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Ten stories won the Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting — “six carrying the familiar byline of Bob Woodward,” noted the New York Times article announcing the awards. He has been a recipient of nearly every other major American journalism award, including the Heywood Broun award (1972), Worth Bingham Prize for Investigative Reporting (1972 and 1986), Sigma Delta Chi Award (1973), George Polk Award (1972), William Allen White Medal (2000), and the Gerald R. Ford Prize for Reporting on the Presidency (2002). In his 1995 memoir A Good Life, former executive editor of the Post Ben Bradlee singled out Woodward in the foreword. “It would be hard to overestimate the contributions to my newspaper and to my time as editor of that extraordinary reporter, Bob Woodward — surely the best of his generation at investigative reporting, the best I’ve ever seen. … And Woodward has maintained the same position on top of journalism’s ladder ever since Watergate.” (bobwoodward.com)
About Co-Author Carl Bernstein
In the early 1970s, Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward broke the Watergate story for The Washington Post, leading to the resignation of President Richard Nixon and setting the standard for modern investigative reporting, for which they and The Post were awarded the Pulitzer Prize. The author of five best-selling books, Bernstein is currently at work on several multi-media projects, including a memoir about growing up at a Washington newspaper, The Evening Star, during the Kennedy era; and a dramatic TV series about the United States Congress for HBO. He is also an on-air political analyst for CNN and a contributing editor of Vanity Fair magazine. His most recent book was the national bestseller “A Woman In Charge: The Life of Hillary Rodham Clinton,” acclaimed as the definitive biography of its subject, published by Knopf. With Woodward, Bernstein wrote two classic best-sellers: “All the President’s Men” (also a movie starring Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman), about their coverage of the Watergate story; and “The Final Days,” about the denouement of the Nixon presidency. He is also the author of a memoir of his family’s experience in the McCarthy era, entitled “Loyalties: A Son’s Memoir;” and the co-author of the definitive papal biography, “His Holiness: John Paul II” and the “History of Our Time,” which detailed the Pope’s pivotal and often clandestine role in the fall of communism. Bernstein was born and raised in Washington, DC and began his journalism career at age 16 as a copyboy, becoming a reporter at 19. He lives in New York with his wife and is the father of two sons, one a journalist and the other a rock musician. (carlbernstein.com)
About Director Alan J. Pakula
“…Pakula was born in 1928 in the Bronx, New York, his father the co-owner of a printing business. It was the months between high school and college that altered his life – he worked at the Leland Hayward Theatrical Agency and fell in love with show business. He both wrote and acted in college plays, and after graduating from Yale Drama School joined Warner Bros cartoon department as an assistant animator, in 1949. He moved to MGM in 1950 as an apprentice, and while there worked with the writer-director Don Hartman on the musical “Mr Imperium.” The following year, when Hartman was made head of production at Paramount, he took Pakula with him as an assistant. Pakula became a producer in 1957 with a harrowing biographical film about the baseball player Jimmy Piersall’s battle with manic depression, “Fear Strikes Out.” Starring Anthony Perkins in his first leading role, the film was directed by Robert Mulligan and began a long collaboration between him and Pakula. The pair formed their own production company, and among the films produced by Pakula and directed by Mulligan were the Oscar-nominated “To Kill a Mockingbird” (1962), starring Gregory Peck, the Steve McQueen-Natalie Wood romance “Love with the Proper Stranger” (1963), “Inside Daisy Clover” (1965) and “Up the Down Staircase” (1967). Pakula became a director himself in 1969 with “The Sterile Cuckoo,” an offbeat teenage love story which won an Oscar nomination for its star Liza Minnelli in her first top-billed role. Pakula also produced the film and his next, the one which established him as a major director, “Klute” (1971), the story of an uneasy alliance between a private detective and a prostitute helping him to solve a murder…A hit with both critics and customers, the film made over $6m and won Fonda the New York Film Critics Award as Best Actress as well as the Oscar. She worked with Pakula twice more, in “Comes a Horseman” (1978), with James Caan and Jason Robards, and Rollover (1981), a complicated tale of financial wheeling and dealing that was one of Pakula’s failures. Maggie Smith starred in “Love and Pain” and the “Whole Damn Thing” (1972), another study of an offbeat attraction, this time between two introverts who meet on a tour of Spain.
“The Parallax View” (1974) was a gripping tale of a reporter (Warren Beatty) investigating a political assassination, too pessimistic perhaps to be a big commercial hit but totally engrossing, exquisitely photographed and designed by the team who would work on Pakula’s subsequent film and greatest success, “All the President’s Men” (1976)…He received the New York Film Critics Award as Best Director for his work on the film, plus an Oscar nomination. “I was called the paranoid’s director,” said Pakula. “Funnily enough, I never expected to direct those kinds of films, although I was always interested in the body politic.” …”Sophie’s Choice” (1982) won him an Oscar for his screenplay as well as Meryl Streep’s award, and “Orphans” (1987) showcased terrific performances by its three leads, Albert Finney, Kevin Anderson and Matthew Modine. The tall, bearded and somewhat professorial Pakula was, not without cause, frequently referred to as an “actor’s director”. “He was incredibly supportive and would give you the courage you needed,” said Candice Bergen, who starred in Pakula’s 1979 comedy “Starting Over.” “He made it safe for me to make a total fool of myself.” Pakula himself confessed his interest in psychology. “A man who is in control, and inside there is a frightened child – that interests me. Why? You can draw your own conclusions.” Pakula’s first wife was the actress Hope Lange, whom he married in 1963 and divorced in 1969. In 1973 he married a writer of historical novels, Hannah Cohn Boorstin. His film “See You in the Morning” (1979), which he also wrote and co-produced, is considered partly autobiographical, concerning a divorced man who marries a widow with several children. Boorstin had five children by her first husband when she married Pakula. The director achieved a return to mainstream success with his 1990 legal thriller “Presumed Innocent,” starring Harrison Ford…“The Pelican Brief” (1993), another conspiracy-theory tale about a law student (Julia Roberts) who uncovers the truth about the murder of two Supreme Court judges, found the director occasionally allowing the pace to slacken but otherwise back on form. Roberts was another performer who had praise for Pakula: “He would allow you your time and the freedom to find things in the material.” Pakula himself said: “I think, when you do a film, there’s a part of you in each character, or vice versa.” At the time of his death in a freak car accident, he was working on the screenplay for his next film, “No Ordinary Time,” about the Roosevelt administration.” (independent.co.uk)