1976

Film #303: All the President’s Men (1976)

Whilst Midnight Cowboy and Lenny both demonstrated the way film-making was changing in the 1970s, the final film in our Hoffman triple bill is incredibly traditional. All the President’s Men is a fairly dialogue-heavy biopic of how two Washington Post reporters exposed the serious corruption that was rife in Richard Nixon’s government.


The film stars Hoffman alongside Robert Redford as Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward; two reporters who ended up as reluctant partners. Based on Woodward and Bernstein’s book, the case that the two journalists embark initially appears to be fairly mundane. The beginning point of the film sees new recruit Woodward being tasked with reporting on a courtroom story about five men who broke into the Watergate Offices. But soon this small story grows legs when Woodward discovers connections with the CIA and he feels that there is more to the tale than meets the eye. Though Woodward is portrayed as quite an intelligent young man, he still has a lot to learn about story layout and so is paired with the more experience Bernstein. Whereas Woodward is fairly level-headed, Bernstein is a lot more off-the-wall and this clash in personalities occasionally causes arguments. But eventually the men gain mutual respect for one another as they uncover some shocking secrets while at the same time struggling with the fact that most of their reports are based on unknown sources. Although some of the senior workers at the paper are not fans of the pair’s procedures, they have the blessing of executive editor Ben Bradlee, who vows to stick with them even when the paper finds itself criticised. Though their story led to the resignation of Nixon, the film really doesn’t hammer this point home and instead shows us a collection of headlines as its closing scene.

I feel one of the best things a biographical film can do is make you wonder what’s going to happen next, when you already know the answer. That’s what I felt throughout All the President’s Men and I feel a lot of that can be attributed to William Goldman’s Oscar-winning script. The film itself was a pet project of Redford who bought the rights to Woodward and Bernstein’s book and had Goldman write a draft of the script. Though the script when through several drafts, the final product was incredibly outstanding and I feel that its dialogue-heavy nature influenced a lot of young screenwriters at the time. Indeed both this film and Network, which was released in the same year, had lots of scenes with men sitting around in rooms talking but somehow made them incredibly thrilling to watch. Hoffman is certainly the most dynamic member of the cast, however I found his performance here lacked the enthusiasm he displayed in the previous two films. Hoffman’s Bernstein is portrayed as being intrepid, if a little over-eager, and somebody who was always on the lookout for the next story. He is perfectly counter-balanced by the much cooler Redford and I feel the two make a great double act. At the time of the film’s release, Redford was the biggest draw at the Box Office but here shared top billing with co-star Hoffman. However, neither was even nominated for Best Actor and the only acting award the film received was for Jason Robards for his compelling supporting turn as Ben Bradlee. Though All the President’s Men isn’t as dark as either Lenny or Midnight Cowboy, it was gripping throughout and was bolstered by two incredibly frantic performances. In addition I think its script has influenced a lot of the film and television that I love today and for that it deserves a large amount of praise.

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