‘All the President’s Men’ emphasizes realism over thrill

Nolan Fullington, Columnist

“All the President’s Men” is a 1976 political “thriller” based on true events that is said to be the most factually accurate film ever made. The creative driving force of this film’s conception was its star, Robert Redford, who had bought the rights to the book in which this film was based on.

Two Washington Post reporters, Bob Woodward (Redford) and Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) begin investigating details of the Watergate scandal as they slowly uncover this web of information that leads to the White House.

This is the film to discuss in comparison to Steven Spielberg’s “The Post” from 2017 because one could literally put the two films together and call it one because one perfectly leads into the other. However, “The Post” serves for stark juxtaposition between how un-Hollywood “All the President’s Men” is because “The Post” has Spielberg, a very cinematic director, behind the lens who seeks to heavily inflect his style of filmmaking on the subject matter. So Spielberg assembles his Avengers team of actors (Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep) who serve as more of a dramatic presence than Redford or Hoffman does in “All the President’s Men.”

“All the President’s Men” is also difficult to break down because it doesn’t feel like a cinematic experience, and that may turn some people off. Instead, it plays out like a documentary as if somebody with a camera followed these two reporters and captured what really happened — even all the boring parts and excess of random information. That also leads to some criticisms with the picture in that it stays more faithful to the art of journalism than to the art of cinema.

This entire film’s structure is like that of “Groundhog Day” in that Woodward and Bernstein go to a place, ask people questions who partially answer said questions or not at all, then the editor chews them out for not having the facts, and the cycle starts over until a pile of information is collected. It’s a very repetitive narrative, but one that stays interesting because of the performances from Hoffman and Redford.

Like the style of the film itself, the performances are all understated for the purpose of presenting realism. There is no wacky, comical character like a more “Hollywood” film would have or some God-awful romantic subplot. In fact, there are no interpersonal or relationship conflicts at all in the entire film. For a cinephile, that can be very frustrating due to the lack of any three-dimensional characters. However, one cannot stay upset for too long because that is not the film’s ambitions.

The realism of the film cannot be expressed enough. The even lighting, actors stepping on each other’s dialogue, no “fancy” camera moves; the majority of the film is just people talking in shot-reverse-shot in a room. If that turns you off, this may not be the film for you. The most climactic part of the film is when Bernstein and Woodward lightly jog through the office.

It being a very un-cinematic experience also leads to an issue with information overload. Like the two reporters in the film, part of me wants to take out a notebook and pencil because the amount of information to keep track of is too extraordinary to wrap your head around. You’re unsure as to what or who is important and that may frustrate some viewers.

However, the sound mixing should be praised. It’s nothing but typewriter sounds for the entire film. Who knew that sound for two and a half hours could win an Oscar? In all seriousness, the sound mixing is a large contribution to placing the audience in the shoes of the reporters as if they were actually digging for answers. It makes the office feel real even though an exact replica of the Washington Post’s offices at the time were built in a studio.

It’s also interesting doing a retrospective on the Watergate scandal and the Pentagon Papers because, as time progresses, one forgets how drawn-out of a process this was. It’s usually taught in schools that some random men broke into the Democratic National Committee headquarters and someone was caught red-handed, then President Nixon resigned afterward.

However, the process of piecing everything together took two years and the back-to-back viewing of this and “The Post” will demonstrate how little anyone cared about Watergate until the Washington Post actually began digging. And that’s what “All the President’s Men” is good for; the factual presentation (more like dissection) of what happened and not the “Hollywood” version.

This film and “The Post” demonstrate the importance of the freedom of the press, which is still a relevant discussion to this day. If people constantly ask questions for two and half hours in shot-reverse-shot sounds dull, perhaps watch “The Post” instead, as many of the same characters are featured in both films anyways. However, regardless of the two film’s criticisms, the themes and messages stand more prominently than the films themselves.