by Abigail Cadelina
Rating: 4 penguins.
Click, clack, cluck, click! The sound of the typewriter breaks the audience’s ears and the old fashioned letter by letter print of “J-u-n-e- -1-, 1-9-7-2” across the wide screen opens the movie. The pairing of the cacophony with the bold, dark type brings the audience to question: what newsworthy, perplexing, chilling event occurred on this date?
When the audience watches Alan J. Pakula's film All the President’s Men,Washington Post journalists Bob Woodward, Robert Redford, and Carl Bernstein, Dustin Hoffman, will take them through the sequence of events that outline the investigation of the Watergate Scandal. What started off to Woodward and Bernstein as a seemingly run of the mill story about the burglary of the Democratic National Committee Headquarters transformed into a clandestine, political scandal that led to the resignation of the president.
What is unique about the telling of this fact-based story is the focus on the presentation of sceneries from a one-camera position to capture the journalistic perspective of the Watergate scandal. One of the early scenes of the movie displays the backs of the five burglars facing the judge in court. The camera does not shoot various aspects of the courtroom, it zooms in on the backs of the convicted. Perhaps the thinking was to let the audience see the unfolding from the view of Woodward as he observed the trial. This one viewpoint perspective was also captured in the shot of Woodward speaking in a phone booth while the images of D.C. buildings and cars in traffic continuously appeared through the windows. I admit the city imagery was a bit distracting while trying to pay attention to Woodward’s serious conversation with an important source regarding the event as it took up much of the screen, but maybe this was an artistic choice to display the contrast between the uninformed citizens continuing their daily routines and the exhilaration surrounding this unusual event on his and Bernstein’s mind. The motif of this single angle was especially apparent as Woodward emerged from the darkness of the outdoors and entered the murkier unknown of a parking garage to meet an anonymous, government official who could give him more details into the investigation. It is unclear whether this source would be trustworthy and that lack of clarity is due to the presentation of the scene. The steadfast camera direction could take some adjusting for an audience who is used to music video style flashes and television, but it creates the concentrated mood of the movie.
The images in All the President’s Men were definitely more blatantly presented than the typical main characters of a movie. Many say the songs and score are characters that capture the audience by stimulating sensations and veering their perceptions. Surprisingly, there is an absence of both in this film. However, there are a few exceptions with score when Woodward travels in a car to interview someone; this technique is to let the audience know there is progress in his lead. Even when the credits first appear it takes a full minute before any music starts to play. The main sounds of the movie come from the Washington Post: the sounds of the typewriter, the printing of paper and the dials of the phone buttons whenever Woodward and Bernstein had to conduct phone interviews. By making the primary sounds come out of the news room, the director ingeniously drew the audience into journalism as the star of the film.
Creating journalism as the shining character must have been especially difficult to do with the star power of Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman in the cast. What helped was the lack of knowledge revealed about the personal lives and desires of their characters, besides their obsession with uncovering the truth. They clash at times with Bernstein reminding Woodward that he has only been with The Post for nine months, to imply his stronger journalistic abilities, using only time as the indicator. They even differ in their interrogation styles: someone hangs up the phone on Woodward and he respects the non-compliance and does nothing; the receptionist denies Bernstein access to see someone and he sneaks in and demands an interview. It is uncertain whether the actual journalists resembled their performances, but the characters were a perfect fit for the typical roles the actors would play in other films. I loved the scene in the elevator where Woodward and Bernstein have a very serious work conversation and Bernstein lights a cigarette and Woodward stops and stares at him. Bernstein says, “What?” and Woodward begrudgingly comments, “Is there any place you don’t smoke?”
But remember, this is not a movie about Woodward and Bernstein. It’s not even a movie about the people involved. All the President’s Men is a movie about the process of uncovering the truth of the Watergate scandal from the journalistic point of view. Sometimes it appeared that Woodward and Bernstein were in the CIA, but perhaps this event demanded serious attention and scrutiny from the media, so it was appropriate. One of the contact sources even told Woodward the journalists could be in danger, but I was not able to feel that because of low action. The lack of movement and music might make people lose interest at times in comparison to the way movies and television are typically portrayed, so I would recommend this movie for people who have a keen interest in American history, politics or journalism because I guarantee their perspectives on all this will be uniquely captivated.