Aug 6, 2007

Movie Review: All the President's Men (1976)

All the President's Men is a 1976 film based on the 1974 non-fiction book by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, the two journalists investigating the Watergate scandal for the Washington Post. The film adaptation starred Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman as Woodward and Bernstein, respectively; it was produced by Walter Coblenz and directed by Alan J. Pakula.


The book was adapted for the screen by William Goldman. The story chronicles the Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporting of Woodward and Bernstein from the former's initial report on the Watergate break-in through the resignations of H. R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman, and the revelation of the Nixon tapes by Alexander Butterfield in 1973. It relates the events behind the major stories the duo wrote for the Post, naming some sources who had previously refused to be identified for their initial articles, notably Hugh Sloan. It also gives detailed accounts of Woodward's secret meetings with his source Deep Throat whose identity was kept secret for over 30 years. Only in 2005 was Deep Throat revealed to be former FBI Associate Director W. Mark Felt.

According to Redford, they tried to film in the actual Washington Post newsroom, but it proved impossible because many Post employees were too aware of the camera, and some even tried to "act." Some employees would disappear into restrooms and apply make up. The production team recreated the facility at a Burbank, California studio for a reported $450,000. However, Frank Wills, the Watergate security guard who first discovered the break-in, played himself in the film.

Some scenes in the film use dioptric lenses, which allow a "split screen" effect on a single take: each half of a shot can have its own focal length (that is, a man in the foreground can be in focus, yet on the other side of the frame, a man in the background can also be in focus--with objects between the two of them out of focus). Use of a dioptric lens requires a sharp dividing line to hide the effect; All the President's Men typically used pillars and desks for dividing lines.

The film also is an early film to make extensive use of different color temperatures in the same shot: for instance, at the beginning during the break-in, the light from inside is noticeably orange, whereas the light from outside is noticeably blue.

Difference from the book
Unlike the book, the film itself only covers the first seven months of the Watergate scandal, from the time of the break-in to Nixon's inauguration on January 20th, 1973. A series of teletype headlines then tell the rest of the story. Although the headlines cover a period through 1975, they are not shown in strict chronological order, so as to end with the dramatic announcement of Nixon's resignation in August, 1974.

Ethnical Dimension
Sometimes this film is assigned in journalism ethics classes for the heavily-disputed ethical dilemma of using anonymous sources when they are central to the reporting of a story. Revealing the Watergate scandal in its entirety would have been impossible without the help of Deep Throat. Furthermore, much of the information gained from government officials was put printed unattached to the name of its provider. To continue moving the investigation forward, the promise of anonymity had to be made, but outside of a case connected with high ups that rise all the way to the President, how can the use of anonymous sources be deemed necessary and ethical?

The use of unnamed sources usually occurs in light of extraordinary circumstances when no other way can be found disclose information to the public that is crucial to their well being. In addition, for most papers to quote or use anonymous sources, other requirements usually need to be met. In a letter sent out to all AP associated papers in 2005, Mike Silverman and Kathleen Carroll, AP Managing Editor and AP Executive Editor, respectively, reminded news staffs across the country that AP policies state anonymous sources are only to be used when the information provided is fact and not opinion; the information is not available unless anonymity can be provided; and the source is in a position to provide credible information. Furthermore, when anonymous sources are used, an explanation to the readers must be given to describe the reasoning behind using unnamed sources in order to prevent any damage to the reputation of journalism's credibility.

Even with these requirements, about one in four editors around the country said, in response to a survey done by the AP and the APME, that they won't use anonymous sources under any conditions because it promotes the use of incredible information. To escape the dagger of incredibility, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein used secondary sources to backup the information given by anonymous sources. This practice has become the benchmark in contemporary journalism in getting the okay from editors to use unnamed sources. Another practice that gives credibility to an anonymous source based information is inserting an appropriate and honest representative title to replace the name of the unnamed source--such as "a Senior Official said..."

It won Academy Awards for Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Jason Robards), Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Best Sound and Best Adapted Screenplay. It was nominated for Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Jane Alexander), Best Director, Best Film Editing and Best Picture.

According to Box Office, the film earned a "Domestic Total Gross" of $70,600,000.

* Dustin Hoffman - Carl Bernstein
* Robert Redford - Bob Woodward
* Jack Warden - Harry M. Rosenfeld
* Martin Balsam - Howard Simons
* Hal Holbrook - Deep Throat
* Jason Robards - Ben Bradlee
* Jane Alexander - Judy Hoback
* Meredith Baxter - Debbie Sloan
* Ned Beatty - Martin Dardis
* Stephen Collins - Hugh W. Sloan, Jr.
* Penny Fuller - Sally Aiken
* Robert Walden - Donald Segretti

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