Fred and Yasser’s Film Club: Week Twenty-One, Part One: ‘All the President’s Men’ (1976)

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The Premise
Film fanatics and friends
 Fred Sullivan and Yasser Akram are on a mission to watch 25 of one another’s favourite movies. Each week they will watch one movie each and then get together to discuss what they have seen. Both men are putting together some strong scores as we enter the top five of each list. Can the quality be maintained, or has someone got a stinker up their sleeve? Read on to find out…

After top marks for Yasser’s choice last time out, Fred will be hoping that the first of his top five choices will be similarly appreciated. It’s a political drama from the 1970s starring two of the biggest names of the decade.

You can read the entries from previous week by checking out the archives on the left of the screen.

To have a look at what Fred has picked so far, click here.

Likewise, for Yasser’s choices, click here.
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Fred: Today, we’re talking about a ’70s classic, ‘All the President’s Men

Yasser: Interesting choice for a top five

FS: Did you know what it was about prior to watching it?

YA: Like others on your list, I went in as blind as a bat

FS: Okay. What were you expecting?

YA: Some sort of war movie, but I wasn’t shook. I watched it without any expectations

‘All the President’s Men’
1976 – USA
Director: Alan J. Pakula
Starring: Robert Redford, Dustin Hoffman, Jason Robards, Hal Holbrook, Jack Warden

FS: You said it was an “interesting choice for a top five”? Why “interesting”?

YA: Because I’ve seen other movies in your top ten and this sticks out like a sore thumb

FS: Now, you used that phrase once before, and you didn’t mean it negatively…

YA: Very astute, Fredders. I don’t mean it negatively here, too

FS: Excellent. Why does it stick out?

YA: Different era, it’s political. The only other choices this would sit well with would be ‘Chinatown‘ and ‘Crimes and Misdemeanors‘. The feel of the film is somewhat like them

FS: Okay – good observation

YA: What is it about ‘All the President’s Men’ you love so much?

FS: I fond American history of that era particularly fascinating. I think Richard Nixon is one of the most interesting public figures of the 20th Century, so as the story is about how two middle-of-the-road journalists broke the Watergate scandal, I’m instantly hooked. As well as that, it feels like a very realistic portrayal of what happened and what being a journalist is like. This is to your average film about a newspaper man what ‘Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy‘ is to 007

YA: Agreed. The story behind the news

FS: It shows that it’s mostly paper work, blind alleys and chasing your tail

YA: Anything else?

FS: I love the cast. Like ‘Anatomy of a Murder‘, this film contains several excellent performances. I’d say that all six of the main players are very, very good. It missed out on Oscars as it was a strong year, but looking back I think it’s stood the test of time better than ‘Rocky‘, ‘Taxi Driver‘ or ‘Network‘. I think it’s the most perfectly produced film from a very good period in Hollywood history

FS: What did you think of it?

YA: Let’s start off with the strongest points of the film – Redford, Hoffman and Robards

FS: Yes, absolutely

YA: In recent years, I’ve found a new admiration for Redford. Previously, I’d liked him in ‘Spy Game‘ and ‘The Last Castle‘. I also saw ‘Out of Africa‘, ‘A Bridge Too Far‘ and ‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid‘. However, after watching ‘Indecent Proposal‘, I was put off him

FS: ‘Indecent Proposal’ IS shit, to be fair

YA: Then I watched ‘The Sting‘… I don’t know what it is about him, but you are drawn to him

FS: He was often seen as ‘just a pretty face’, but he was more like Paul Newman than, say, Cary Grant. I love Grant, but he was not an amazing actor, he was a star. Redford is both

YA: There is something about him that makes me want to listen to what he’s saying. He’s good, isn’t he?

FS: I think he’s better than Hoffman in this

YA: I agree, and I love Hoffman. See, he’s awesome in all the films of his I’ve seen. He’s a better caliber of actor – one of the greats – but you’re right in saying Redford is better than him in this

FS: I think he’s given more good performances over his career than Redford, and he’s very good again in this film

YA: Hoffman couldn’t be the sly fox here that smiles and gets what he wants

FS: That’s an interesting point. At the beginning, he is like that. He thinks he can get by on charming people, but it’s obviously not working any more, if it ever did, as he’s on the verge of being fired from the paper. It’s only when he actually starts to work hard that he saves himself

YA: You could see that there was tension between Woodward (Redford) and Bernstein (Hoffman) at first. Egos got in the way

FS: The first really good scene of the picture is a good example of that, where Bernstein re-writes Woodward’s copy without asking him

YA: I loved how Woodward reads it and says “it’s better your way” and all of a sudden they’re partners

FS: Reluctant partners who gradually reach an understanding. The casting choice was interesting in that, to look at, Hoffman may seem more suited to the ‘grafter’ role of Woodward, whilst Redford’s good looks may have made him a more obvious choice as the confident and charming Bernstein. However, they work well in the opposite roles, both individually and together

YA: I noticed that too. Hoffman was trying to charm information out of people, especially when he was by himself. I felt Woodward often stopped Bernstein from being his usual self

FS: Woodward didn’t like his tricks, but he starts to play along in the end when they get more desperate for the story

YA: I need to talk about Jason Robards. How much do you know him?

FS: I love him. He’s never bad. He’s one of the great American character actors. You?

YA: Not much. ‘Once Upon a Time in the West‘ and ‘Crimson Tide‘. I recognise him, but I couldn’t have said ‘Ahhh! I know this guy and he’s great’. I will now, though. He delivered like Eastwood. No bullshit, just straight talking

FS: He definitely steals every scene he’s in. He is so supportive, as Ben Bradlee, of Woodward and Bernstein, but doesn’t molly-coddle them. He knows what’s on the line and he tells them when they are shit

YA: There is something about the story I don’t like. It makes the paranoid, conspiracy theorist in me come out

FS: How do you mean?

YA: Who the fuck is ‘Deep Throat’ (Hal Holbrook)? Why are there so many unnamed sources?

FS: People didn’t want to be named as they feared for their futures, their families, and even their lives

YA: Of course, but for those of us who don’t know who these sources were, I’d like to have seen the ones who were later revealed to be listed. I dunno. It all makes is seem very organised to me

FS: You have to remember that the film was made less than four years after the events depicted. Most people, certainly ‘Deep Throat‘, remained unknown by the public until they died, or several decades had passed

YA: Fair point

FS: You like Robards, which I’m delighted about. What about the other three supporting actors? Hal Holbrook, Jack Warden and Martin Balsam?

YA: To be honest, there was so much going on that it was hard to keep up with the supporting characters and how they performed

FS: They are quite small roles, I suppose

YA: Holbrook was very much in the shadows, speaking in riddles. Like you said, they were three minor roles

FS: Okay. What else was good?

YA: The film was quick. You had to pay attention. It assumed you had the intelligence to keep up instead of explaining shit to you

FS: It doesn’t pause for a moment

YA: If that film was made today, knowing Hollywood, it would’ve changed it so it explained everything. It wouldn’t stand up as well

FS: It would be much more sensationalised too. They couldn’t get away with that, so soon after the real events

YA: No, but the way they did it – the mystery unfolding, the constant questioning, the investigations – they still managed to pull off a suspenseful movie

FS: It’s tense and thrilling without any car chases or fights or even visible danger

YA: The end fucked me off

FS: Why? I bet I can guess

YA: Go on…

FS: They finally got their break, and then the pay-off is shown on a telegraph machine

YA: Yeah! Fucking crap! I mean it was so good. They’re writing it up to sound of the cannons going off when Nixon’s being sworn back into office for his second term. But then it finishes. Like ‘WHAT’? Why would you do that?

FS: I like the ending. The film is about how they break the story and how they make the connections right up the chain of command

YA: They don’t even show it does go all the way up to Nixon. I would’ve appreciated that rather than the abrupt ending

YA: I’m still trying to understand why this makes your top five?

FS: If you look at my top ten, there are very few made in what I consider the ‘Third Age of Hollywood’. I believe that between 1967 and 1977 there was a turnaround in what Hollywood films wanted to be. It was a short period where realism reigned and the audience were treated as adults. You had a group of new film makers, be they directors like Coppola or Scorsese, stars like Hoffman and De Niro, or all-rounders like Redford, Michael Douglas or Warren Beatty and they wanted to make intelligent, challenging films. I’d go so far as to say that the mainstream output over those ten years was the most consistently intelligent ever

YA: Right…

FS: This film is THE perfect example of all that. It has two mega-stars who picked challenging and smart roles once their star power allowed them some freedom. It’s based on a story that was so recent they couldn’t sensationalise or sugar-coat it. The result is an informative, absorbing, taut, and well acted drama that takes it’s tension from real life and not synthetic or overblown situations. In the wrong hands or with the wrong cast, it could have been a very boring film

YA: So you like it then?

FS: (laughs) Think about it. The nearly all the other big movies of the 1970s either had links to old Hollywood (‘The Godfather‘, ‘Network’, ‘The Sting’, ‘Chinatown’), the post-‘Star Wars‘ era of excess (‘Rocky’, ‘Jaws‘, ‘Deliverance‘) of have significant flaws (‘Bonnie and Clyde‘, ‘In the Heat of the Night‘, ‘Dog Day Afternoon‘). For me, this film has none that. It’s almost like the perfect realisation of 1970s Hollywood

YA: You make some compelling and intriguing points. I don’t know – I can’t really think of any faults, apart from the ending, but I just don’t think the movie is that great

FS: I could tell it didn’t ‘buzz’ you. I’m still not really sure what you thought of it

YA: I’ll enlighten you them…

YA: ‘All the President’s Men’ depicts the story of the investigation behind the Watergate scandal. From the moment Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman’s characters meet, the story starts to pick up into a quick pace where they bounce off each other, but rather than focusing on their relationship with each other, the film tried to establish the unfolding of the information that led to Richard Nixon’s resignation. Redford and Hoffman complement one another, always knowing their place, as actors rather that giving a ‘LOOK AT ME! I’M A HOLLYWOOD STAR DOING ACTING!’ kind of performance. This is further enhanced by the scene-stealing Jason Robards. He is wonderful to watch

FS: He really is

YA: What helps the story is that everyone involved in the film obviously has respect for what happened in reality. Everyone is on point and assumes the audience is in a position of intelligence. All in all, it’s a stellar cast and story, which places a very enthralling, but serious tone on events that would’ve been fresh in audiences minds. Unfortunately for me, we don’t get to see when Nixon resigned and it’s just summarised at the end, and looking at it as someone for whom the events are not deep-seated in my own history, I’m afraid that means the movie isn’t for everyone. It’s hard to fault, and I’ll take it for what it is, so 8/10

Next week: War is hell in ‘Saving Private Ryan’ and cross-dressing is the key to survival in ‘Some Like it Hot’

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3 thoughts on “Fred and Yasser’s Film Club: Week Twenty-One, Part One: ‘All the President’s Men’ (1976)

    […] All the President’s Men […]

    […] (laughs) It is a comedy. I mean, if he rocked up in ‘All the President’s Men‘ with that accent I’d see your […]

    […] ‘All the President’s Men‘, ‘Bad Day at Black Rock‘, ‘Inherit the Wind‘, ‘Cinema […]

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