All the President's Men on Blu-ray
By Jim Bray
William Goldman's adaptation of Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward's book about how they brought down a president is at heart a nifty detective story. But instead of starring real gumshoes, they're newspaper reporters looking for a scoop.
And boy, do they get one!
From a story about a flawed break-in at the Democratic party headquarters in the Watergate hotel they keep peeling away more layers of intrigue and corruption than you can shake a stick at, helping lead to convictions and the eventual resignation of President Richard Nixon. The movie ends before the convictions and resignation, but it gets us close enough, showing us in the process the hard and often thankless (or worse) work the intrepid reporters did that led to their eventual deification in the annals of Mainstream Media.
Fortunately, they happened to be right in this case, which is set in the early 1970's when the mainstream media were still relevant and all-powerful. I'm curious to know if someone's going to make a movie about the TV news folk who faked vehicle crash tests or who happily broadcast the Toyota show trial that damaged the reputation of a car maker later found innocent…
For better or for worse, and I think it's mostly for worse, their adventure led to successive generations (and a large group of "Woodstein's" peers) who look at journalism as a way to make a difference, to make the world a better place. And while there is a place for that, far too many journalists use their profession as a way to be activists for a particular ideology while pretending that they aren't.
Fortunately, the movie doesn't really hint at any of that and is, instead, a terrific thriller.
Robert Redford plays Woodword, a reasonably wet behind the ears reporter for the Washington Post. Dustin Hoffman is the chain-smoking Carl Bernstein, a more seasoned scribe who not only partners in the story with Woodward but who also acts as a writing mentor, which apparently Woodward needed at the time.
The Watergate break-in story started as straightforward reportage, but the more Woodward and Bernstein dug the more they realized that this conspiracy was far bigger and more important than they'd imagined. But the information didn't just fall into their laps; it took a lot of hard work and determination to track leads and dig up evidence that lets them put together the jigsaw puzzle picture of high-level government corruption that was the story of a lifetime.
Director Alan J. Pakula guided "All the President's Men" surely, creating an intelligent paranoid thriller that, despite a dearth of action, manages to draw you in as the story – and the story within the story - unfolds. He also hired an excellent supporting cast, including Jason Robards (who won an Oscar for his portrayal of Post editor Ben Bradlee), Hal Holbrook, Jack Warden, Martin Balsam, Jane Alexander, Ned Beatty, Robert Walden, Stephen Collins and Lindsay Crouse.
The movie also captures the look and feel of the era beautifully – heck, just the fact that Hoffman smokes cigarettes all through the movie shows it's a period piece. Sure, the movie was made scant years after the actual events portrayed, but the newspaper sets in particular, from the newsroom with its incessant clacking of typewriters to the editorial meetings, have a very real feel to them.
The movie is presented in 1080/24p, of course, in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The picture is a bit dark, but there's plenty of fine detail in hair, clothes, etc. Not a lot of that great "depth" we get on so many Blu-rays, however, and fleshtones can look a bit red at times, but it isn't jarring by any means.
Audio, dts-HD Master Audio, is only in mono but it's actually quite good considering there's not really any LFE channel use, either. But diaglogue is always clear and even though it's mono the filmmakers have done a pretty good job of making us feel a part of the ambience.
Extras include about 17 minutes of self-congratulatory media navel gazing from the likes of Walter Cronkite and Linda Ellerbe, with famed journalist Oliver Stone and Jonathan Alter (some guy from Newsweek – the once supposedly great magazine that sold for a dollar last year) along as well. They huff and puff about how great they and their ilk are and how Woodstein has been such an inspiration. I actually made it to the end, but there's nothing worth watching here unless you want to see some supposed media giants pontificating in a self-congratulatory way.
All the President's Men, from Warner Home Entertainment
Jim Bray's columns are available from the TechnoFile Syndicate.