Watergate 40 Years Later: A Look at 'All the President's Men'
Published: Tuesday, June 19, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, June 20, 2012 11:06
This Sunday marked the 40th anniversary of the break-in at the Watergate complex in Washington D.C., the site of a scandal that forever changed the way Americans view political campaigns, the presidency and journalism. In honor of this historic event, I decided to watch All the President’s Men, the 1976 classic starring Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman as Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, the two reporters of the Washington Post who cracked the case.
If you haven’t viewed this historic movie, you’re missing out.
All the President’s Men plays like an impeccable period piece, a testament to the vision held by the filmmakers: They had to know that 40 years later, this movie would still be watched. They impeccably capture the high-stress environment of the newsroom in the middle of an election year. Still, there’s something funny about watching 1970s Washington on screen. Cigarettes, bell-bottomed khakis, checkered sport coats and casual sexism abound. I couldn’t help but wonder how things would have gone if Deep Throat — perhaps the world’s most famous anonymous source — could have sent Woodward an email instead of meeting him in a parking garage, cloaked in shadows.
This movie succeeds partly because it maintains a high level of suspense, even though we all know the ending. Everything is on the line for Woodward and Bernstein: their jobs, the integrity of their newspaper and their lives. Redford and Hoffman, two of the greatest actors to ever grace the silver screen, do a magnificent job portraying the heroes, two journalists who stumble upon the story of the decade. Like Hoffman’s black hair, they’re a little wild and refused to be tamed. For their part, their editors give them the right amount of skepticism and encouragement they need to turn the story into a hallmark of American journalism.
Yet for all the suspense and masterful storytelling, the film is a bit one-sided. Woodward and Bernstein are the perfect heroes, flawlessly rooting out corruption. Any mistakes they make are small, easily overlooked. On the one hand, given how closely the real Woodward and Bernstein worked with the production company to make the movie, which was based on their book of the same name, it makes sense that their flaws would be overlooked. But this perspective makes the characters a little distant — we never find out who these men really are outside of the newsroom. Of course, the story is real: They really were the heroes, so the lack of character development can be overlooked.
I was also bothered by the secondary nature of the female characters. Maybe that’s just how the 1970s were; Women were pushed to the sides. I like to think that if this scandal were to happen now, there would be more women in prominent positions on both sides of the story.
In the end, it’s an amazing movie about an awe-inspiring, awful story. Redford and Hoffman embody the incredulity and frustration Woodward and Bernstein must have felt as they slowly unraveled the unbelievable conspiracy. Their passion as journalists is overwhelming. They drive around the city knocking on the doors of the entire Committee to Re-Elect the President — appropriately abbreviated to CREEP — until they find someone willing to hint at the information she knows. As newspapers across the country today struggle financially, their dedication to finding the truth seems even more incredible and even more necessary to the functioning of a healthy democracy.
The movie is long, clocking at over two hours, but there are few moments that aren’t as gripping. Before watching this movie, I knew woefully little about the scandal, though I often run past the Watergate complex. All the President’s Men was the perfect way to get educated and entertained.