I remember I watched this movie at some point during college when I would randomly have a borrowed stack of DVDs and a few movie files on my computer. I know I respected the movie then but I wouldn’t say I enjoyed it very much. Then again I was in my twenties and probably more into dick and fart joke movies. I would kind of half watch as I painted and smoked weed and just generally kept reminding myself, “This is that watergate movie, with Redford and Hoffman”. I knew the movie was important, I was growing to love Political thrillers and procedural dramas, and I was going through a Hoffman phase since I had just watched his “Inside the Actor’s Studio”. But the film just pwent in one ear and out the other a bit.
Years later when it would pop up as an option to watch I’d say to myself “Oooo, I should watch that again” but I kept passing it up.
I’m glad I waited until this evening to watch it again. I’ll spare you any political preaching but if you read this review around the time I post it, I think you’d agree that we live in some truly fascinating and unprecedented times in terms of presidential politics and how it relates to obstruction of justice and illegal activities.
Perhaps since this sort of thing is all I usually hear in the news these days this film just seemed to be vibrating with a big imaginary neon sign above the poster image, saying “Now it’s time to watch me.”
I was way more engaged this time around and I think I know exactly why I might have zoned out the first time. This classic is perhaps the zenith of the “Procedural Drama” genre, not because it’s intense, or incredibly thrilling. It’s that absolutely everything is painstakingly kept matter of fact.
The film is ominous and has grandeur and somehow still remains understated. The camera work isn’t flashy but it has some truly beautiful shots that telegraph to your eyeballs that what you’re watching is important. The acting is subtle and this makes it so every raised eyebrow, darting eye, or slacked jaw carries weight. The score is almost nonexistent so it allows you to feel like you’re in these meetings and discussions at the Washington Post as they pour over notes and puzzle pieces. Every phone conversation is a mystery box that the protagonists slowly lock pick with their questions. The cuts are quick and every scene is part of this tremendous investigative piece. The dialogue is so natural and characters often talk over one another just as we do in reality rather than waiting for their turn to deliver lines.
After watching this slow masterful burn I now can think back to other political thrillers and procedurals and realize how much emotional manipulation is happening in those films. The score leads you towards how you’re supposed to feel. The protagonist is up against some truly vile characters and they’re just waiting to explode with witty one liners or an epic speech about justice. Scenes happen that are there for a laugh or unnecessary twist that doesn’t truly help the story. Perhaps the studio thought the viewer would lose interest because they’re some college kid smoking weed and tuning out because they didn’t hear a dick or fart joke in the last 20 minutes. I love those types of films just as much as the next person but thinking on those films truly highlights how special “All the Presidents Men” is in comparison, and how after I grew out of my twenties why it was important to view it with a more aged perspective. It makes me realize the irony that politics and journalism today are more like those dick and fart joke movies, filled with needless twists to the plot and laughs,.. Far too many laughs that are the only guard against the fear that we just don’t have what it takes to get to the truth that’s buried under all the bullshit.