[box cover]

All the President's Men: Special Edition

Warner Home Video

Starring Robert Redford, Dustin Hoffman, and Jason Robards, Jr.

Written by William Goldman
from the book by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein

Directed by Alan J. Pakula

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Review by Gregory P. Dorr                    

The Watergate scandal that led to President Richard Nixon's resignation in 1974 was not only a pivotal moment in American political history, but also a key moment in the course of U.S. journalism. Two unknown Washington Post journalists, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, doggedly investigated the bizarre burglary of the Democratic National Committee's headquarters in Washington D.C. and discovered a complex web of corruption and concealment involving the Nixon administration's misuse of reelection funds for financing an aggressive and illegal "dirty tricks" campaign against its opponents. Despite White House efforts to cover-up its egregious abuse of powers, Nixon's administration eventually collapsed in shame, and Woodward and Bernstein emerged as iconic press heroes. In much the same way Star Wars innocently but profoundly affected Hollywood, spawning blockbuster and merchandising mania, Woodward and Bernstein unwittingly inspired — and jaded — a new generation of journalists with romantic visions of scandal-fed stardom and giant-killing media activism, and ushered in a new era of dubiously dependable anonymous sourcing.

Robert Redford, however, took an early interest in the Post's Watergate reporting and began contacting Woodward about a film adaptation of the duo's work while they were still figuring out the puzzle in semi-obscurity. Producer Redford's initiative was crucial to the success of the film All the President's Men, in that it focused the story away from the distractions of politics and polemic and firmly on the "detective story." Directed by Alan J. Pakula and written by William Goldman from Woodward and Bernstein's book, All the President's Men stars Redford as Woodward and Dustin Hoffman as Bernstein as they "follow the money" from the suspiciously connected Watergate burglars to top White House officials. On the way they encounter false starts, red herrings, dead ends, fearful sources, powerful resistance, and the constant, ass-tight scrutiny and support of iconoclastic Post editor Ben Bradlee (the fantastic Jason Robards, Jr.).

All the President's Men is tight and vivid and never wastes time or energy on the dull moralizing that characterizes most movies with political subjects. Redford and Hoffman are perfect as the straight-laced, fact-hungry Woodward and the impulsive, passionate Bernstein, who work their conflicting approaches into an effective tag team. The film is full of scintillating details, including questionable reporting practices (such as digging into library records, hectoring and lying to frightened sources, and combating frustrating "non-denial denials" with equally questionable non-confirmation confirmations), the swaggering stupidity of corruption, the exhaustive research behind the big story, and the unavoidably incestuous relationship between politicians and journalists in D.C. social circles.

Goldman's script has oft been cited as peerless in terms of its structure and a thrill for political junkies, but the esoteric concepts at stake don't really resonate. As Bradlee puts it, "Nothing's riding on this except the, uh, First Amendment to the Constitution, freedom of the press, and maybe the future of the country," but that never amounts to more than opinion journalism, and it doesn't really get the heart pounding the way conventional murder and mayhem do. Although paranoia abounds, and the reporters are told more than once to fear for their lives, the Nixon cover-up is ultimately more bureaucratic than sinister, with reputations taking the biggest hit, making All The President's Men more like a top-notch Encyclopedia Brown mystery than a true nail-biter. With the mystery so neutered, the film's most serious flaw is its ending, which never offers resolution for the characters, whose all-consuming work eventually triggers an historic avalanche, and it might have been satisfying to see it happen.

Jack Warden, Martin Balsam, Stephen Collins, Hal Holbrook, Jane Alexander, Meredith Baxter, Ned Beatty, Lindsay Crouse, and Robert Walden all appear in small, selfless, and excellent supporting roles.

Warner Home Video'sAll The President's Men: Special Edition is presented in a good anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) that is an improvement over this film's initial DVD release. Both the color and contrast are more sharply defined, and the film's original aspect ratio is more faithfully represented. The visual improvements are especially welcome during the movie's many dark scenes, finally doing justice to Gordon "Prince of Darkness" Willis's evocative cinematography.

2006 Special Edition

1999 DVD Release

The film's audio is presented in Dolby Digital 1.0. The feature film is accompanied on Disc One by an interesting, low-key commentary from Redford, who aims a few darts at contemporary politics. Disc Two includes a host of documentaries that cover the film and its subject in some detail. Still, while the movie is blissfully free of political comment, political junkies can't help but be disappointed that there aren't more sides of the story covered in the supplemental materials. For example, an extra commentary track with Woodward and Bernstein, both of whom are involved in the featurettes, may have offered rich insight, and if Redford & Co. had wanted to loosen control over the framing of the discussion, inviting a real Watergate player, like bomb-throwing firebrand talk show host G. Gordon Liddy, to participate would have been fascinating. Instead, the Disc Two materials cover fairly predictable topics with little dissent: the greatness of the film, the heroics of the reporters, and the ominous signs present in today's cowed media and the super-duper secretive White House.

Also included on Disc Two are the 1975 featurette "Pressure and the Press: The Making of All the President's Men" (10 min.) and a 1976 Jason Robards interview by Dinah Shore in which Dinah insists she knows the identity of "Deep Throat," but never tells (7 min.).

— Gregory P. Dorr

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