In the classic 1994 film Forrest Gump, there is a brief scene where the titular character is spending the night at the Watergate hotel in Washington, D.C. He calls the front desk, informing them of people with flashlights in a room outside his window “keeping him awake.”
While that is undoubtably not what happened, it was my introduction to the Watergate Scandal. Even nearly half a century later, the events that would lead to President Nixon’s resignation is still regarded as one of the biggest political bombshells the world has ever witnessed, yet it was not as if Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein volunteered knowing what it would eventually lead to.
I won’t pretend to know all the facts of the story shown on screen in All the President’s Men: it is a film that is really hard to dissect in a factual sense. Still, that does not make the film any less compelling. Based off the book by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein (with the Oscar winning screenplay by the late great William Goldman, the film is a basic straightforward story of how the two young reporters happened upon the break in at Watergate. The film starts with Woodward (Robert Redford), who is only a few months on the job at the Washington Post before Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) comes in on the story as well.
When it comes to films on journalism, this film is almost unanimous in being picked as the best. This is most notable in how purely authentic the movie is. Even if we get information much quicker these days (thanks to the internet), there is still something thrilling about how the team of “Woodstein” manage to gather data from their sources. While I have never taken a course in journalism (a fact that I hope does not make me lose readers), it is no wonder this film is shown in journalism classes to this day.
While we can think of reporters as sometimes being nosey (especially in film and TV), there is something that makes us still root for the two protagonists (aside from the fact that they are the films heroes). Their characters are indeed flawed (Woodward is still somewhat of a novice and Bernstein is much more forcefull, not to mention somewhat of a ladies man), yet their hearts are still in the right place. When questioning a witness whose wife is pregnant, the reporters ask when the due date is. This is not just a way to get the subject to cooperate, but also an actual show of concern.
Much credit should be given to behind the scenes, as we get the tension set by director Alan J. Pakula (not to mention Redford as producer). The look of Washington is also mesmerizing, as we get the lights and shadows to pin point accuracy by “the prince of darkness” cinematographer Gordon Willis (who also was responsible for the first two Godfather films).
It is no surprise to learn that the acting is superlative. Aside from Redford and Hoffman, all the other supporting actors are performing as if at their own personal apex. Jack Warden shines as vet Harry Rosenfeld, who has to keep “Woodstein” in line while also secretly having some faith in them. Hal Holbrook is spellbinding as Woodward’s mysterious source “Deep Throat” (who we now know to be the late Mark Felt). While others such as Martin Balsom and Jane Alexander shine in their roles, no one does more so than that of Jason Robards as the paper’s famous editor Ben Bradlee, for which he won an Oscar. With the little amount of screen time he is given, Robards is magnetic in every sense of the word.
Parents, until I started writing this paragraph, I literally thought the film was rated R. In fact, it is rated PG, which did in fact astound me. It would undoubtably be given a PG-13 rating nowadays (that rating did not exist in the 1970s), for there is a good about of swearing (including F bombs). There is no sexual content in the film (minus some moderate talk about it) or nudity. I would say mature middle schoolers and above.
The ending of the film is indeed a curious one (no spoilers in the fact that we know Nixon eventually resigned rather than face impeachment). Once the story is finally printed, it is clear that they still did not dig deep enough (as certain witnesses do deny the story).
It had me thinking a lot about how we, as Christians, can sometimes start debates with non-christians and find ourselves in over our head. Heaven knows that no one likes the feeling of being in the spotlight without knowing what to do or say. When we don’t have the right amount of preparation, we can feel the desire to tuck our tails between our legs and hide. Or, in the case of Woodward and Bernstein, we can press on until we finally uncover the truth. Which, as we know, will set us free (John 8:32)
In the last few years, the term “fake news” has been used more often that not. While I am not going to say what sources of news are “fake” and which ones are not, All the President’s Men is a perfect reminder of why real truth reporting is one of the most important things our country has to maintain.
As said at the end of the film by Ben Bradlee,
“Nothing’s riding on this except the, uh, first amendment to the Constitution, freedom of the press, and maybe the future of the country.”