Films

If you liked the scandal, you’ll love the movie!

MARNI JACKSON April 19 1976
Films

If you liked the scandal, you’ll love the movie!

MARNI JACKSON April 19 1976

If you liked the scandal, you’ll love the movie!

Films

ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN Directed by Alan J. Pakula

There is a crucial scene in Warner Brothers’ $8.5-million Watergate film in which Washington Post reporters Woodward and Bernstein (Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman) are poring over thousands of White House library slips. Assigned to investigate the break-in at Democratic headquarters, the reporters are trying to find out

if Howard Hunt borrowed a book on Ted Kennedy. The camera soars overhead until the slips of paper and the two men are engulfed by the larger perspective. The cinematic point is made. Details, the research invisibly buried in an actor’s performance or in a newspaper story, are everything.

In All The President’s Men, a we-allknow-whodunit in which the “how” is the source of fascination, Woodward and Bernstein painstakingly brick in their quarry with a few words cajoled from a bookkeeper, 100 cat-and-mouse phone calls, an initial on a matchbook. (Evil is not oply banal; it leaves a banal trail.) The film, which dramatizes the first two thirds of the book, successfully conveys this density of fact, as it documents and even emulates the journalistic process. In most media clonings—where real life becomes a book, then a film, and finally a musical comedy—this hall of mirrors usually gives back nothing of the truth. But this is a movie you feel you can trust. Every aspect reflects a fiendish authenticity, from the set (a 32,000-square-foot reproduction of the Post newsroom, accurate down to the trash in the baskets) to the reticent, almost self-

effacing performances of the actors.

Director Alan Pakula {Klute) has played down the reporters’ relationship and personalities, although these are economically suggested: the front wheel of Bernstein’s bike leans against his desk; Woodward’s bachelor apartment looks like a live-in briefcase. In the role of Woodward, the cooler, more conservative of the pair, Redford radiates integrity. In-

deed, his eyes sometimes shine like two morality squad badges. The actor initiated the movie in March, 1973, even before the book was finished, and Redford’s pragmatic idealism is a tangibly strong force in the film. There is just the faintest clank of armor as the reporters hit the streets, and the ending is pure Blazing Typewriters. It’s as if the movie’s scrupulous devotion to the truth is a form of penance for the sins of Watergate—or proof that movies can behave as responsibly as newspapers on occasion do.

But this indulgence has been earned. The ingredients of Watergate present so many temptations—a romance of the newspaper world, a pillory of Nixon—but with great restraint, the film makers have avoided the worst of them. All The President’s Men restores immediacy and tension to a story that is so familiar we can almost mouth the words. It manages to do this by imitating Bernstein and Woodward, who were doing their job.

MARNI JACKSON