All the President’s Men” is all the more relevant in an era of 9/11-invoked secrecy and great debates over present journalism tactics — not to mention the revelation that Mark Felt is Deep Throat. Warner Home Video’s DVD release balances such weighty issues with a surprisingly interesting trip through the making of the pic, benefiting greatly from the participation of living principals and director-costar Robert Redford in his DVD commentary debut.
The pic traces Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s pursuit of the Watergate break-in in the summer and fall of 1972, through the shadowy and largely unseen corridors of power in Washington. When Redford was developing the movie some 30 years ago, he had to convince Warner Bros. that “All the President’s Men” would not be a rehash of Watergate but a thrilling detective tale. Redford details the way he stumbled onto the story, way back in 1972, when he was promoting “The Candidate,” and how Woodward initially gave him the brush-off. But even though he had no idea that the “third rate burglary” would eventually topple a presidency, Redford stayed on it, and eventually won the reporting duo’s trust.
Redford may be stretching it a bit in comparing the roadblocks involved in making the pic to those faced by “Woodstein,” but there’s no doubt of the pressures that he, director Alan J. Pakula and screenwriter William Goldman faced. They knew the whole media world would be watching, so they couldn’t play loose with the facts. The result is a pic that benefits greatly from Redford and Dustin Hoffman’s interplay, as well as the ingenious work of cinematographer Gordon Willis, who lit much of Washington as dark and the Washington Post newsroom blinding bright, signifying the truth.
What’s missing are any mention of Goldman’s frustrations in coming up with the script, chronicled in his classic tome “Adventures in the Screen Trade.” Nor is there any comment from Nixon-era figures like John Dean and G. Gordon Liddy, who could have added compelling perspective to a bevy of documentaries (which, in an inspired bit of casting, are narrated by the film’s Deep Throat, Hal Holbrook).
Nitpicking, aside, it’s hard not to be inspired by the doggedness of Woodward and Bernstein, or to contrast their efforts to the state of investigative reporting today at a time of Nixon-like secrecy in the Bush administration. The difference is that today is an era of instantaneous news and blogosphere scrutiny. Today, Woodward and Bernstein themselves would have become the story, and there would be little room left for a clear-cut Hollywood ending.