Connor Loyd is a movie critic for the Samford Crimson. The views expressed in this opinion article do not necessarily reflect the views of the Samford Crimson or Samford University.
I’m currently in my senior year as a journalism major here at Samford University. Until very recently, I had never actually seen “All the President’s Men,” one of the quintessential journalism movies (along with “Citizen Kane,” which I have also never seen). Luckily, I remedied half of this monumental oversight just the other night when I decided to finally sit down and watch this classic 70s political thriller, and I’m very glad that I did.
The plot follows Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, two reporters for the Washington Post, as they struggle to unravel and understand the confusing, secretive conspiracy hovering over Washington. This Watergate conspiracy would eventually lead to President Nixon’s resignation and forever alter the way the American people view the Oval Office and politics in general. It was a major turning point in recent U.S. history, and watching a movie which made just a few short years after the actual events sets you back into that time period in a way most historical dramas of the present struggle to.
One detail I really appreciated in the dialogue and the way the actors deliver it was that the characters genuinely talk like real people. This aspect of the film’s performances is particularly noticeable with Dustin Hoffman’s portrayal of Bernstein, who speaks and stutters his way through the film in a manner which makes it feel like he isn’t even acting at all. But Hoffman is far from the only actor who pulls off this verisimilitude. The film is packed with performances peppered with these little imperfections in speaking we all experience and recognize, but almost never see in movies. These people feel real (and yes, I know they are based on real people).
And this immersion and attention to detail goes beyond just dialogue. Robert Redford’s Woodward makes little notes and doodles when collecting info on a story in the same way that I do. These little details go a long way towards both endearing you to the characters and making you feel like they are more than just actors on camera.
This movie touched base with the part of myself that truly loves working in journalism. It showcased the good it can do and the important role the free press has in maintaining and upholding democracy. It’s impressive to have a movie with so much suspense and intrigue that contains no shootouts or car chases, just smart people using their heads to figure out a tough situation and going up against powerful enemies, many of whom you never actually see on-screen.
And though not intentional at the time it was produced, the movie is also great at demonstrating some of the difficulties that came with analogue reporting and investigating. The reporters of this film use typewriters and comb through physical records, they flip through phone books and travel door-to-door hoping to find somebody who will speak to them about what’s really been going on. At the time of its filming, this is just how all reporting was conducted, but looking back at it now, you can truly appreciate the effort to which these reporters would go to see a story through.
The script was written by William Goldman, a massively talented and influential writer of both novels and screenplays. He wrote “The Princess Bride,” a personal favorite of mine, and he helped mentor Aaron Sorkin, another screenwriter whose work I really enjoy.
A part of me wishes that the movie had covered the entirety of the Post’s Watergate coverage, going all the way through to Nixon’s resignation. Goldman said that discarding the second half of the book was a crucial decision he made while writing the film, and I understand why he chose not to cover the entire thing. The story works well with what they included. Including the entire story would have either ruined the pacing of the film or forced a very long and mostly static third act.
Additionally, the sound design in the film is phenomenal. That isn’t the kind of thing one usually would notice when watching most movies, but the attention and care that was put into the way the movie sounds is impressive. Every noise has punch, is crisp and clear and it puts you right in the room with the characters.