Much like knowing how “Titanic” ends doesn’t spoil a viewing of that movie, “All the President’s Men” (streaming on HBO Max) guarantees a rewarding experience even for the most ardent history buff.
The 1970s Watergate scandal that ultimately brought down the Nixon presidency has been well-documented, one of the foremost recollections being the bestseller by then-scrappy Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. The book immediately cemented their careers and attracted the attention of Robert Redford, who scored a coup for his Wildwood Enterprises production company by acquiring the movie rights for the drama that was released in 1976. Among its numerous virtues, it gets the atmosphere of a working newsroom absolutely right.
Redford also plays Woodward opposite Dustin Hoffman’s Bernstein in William Goldman’s Oscar-winning script, and even if the journalists’ names have been welded together by the shared nature of their fame, the film points out that they hardly were on the same page as the investigation of the break-in at Washington, D.C.’s Watergate Hotel began. They were pursuing different leads, but their mutual hunger for the story led their bosses (played expertly, as usual, by Jack Warden and Martin Balsam) to assign both of them to it.
The brilliant screen structure of “All the President’s Men” allows for a virtual galaxy of excellent performances by a vast variety of talents under Alan J. Pakula’s direction. One that surely must be noted is Jason Robards’ profile of Post executive editor Ben Bradlee, who had his doubts about Woodward and Bernstein, but who also didn’t stand in their way. Though he has only a few scenes in the picture, Robards looms large over it, and he won his first of two consecutive Academy Awards for it (the second would be for “Julia”).
Also a standout is Hal Holbrook as the informant famously known as “Deep Throat,” whose covert encounters with Woodward usually took place literally in the shadows. Jane Alexander (who would work with both Hoffman and Redford again, in “Kramer vs. Kramer” and “Brubaker” respectively), Robert Walden (“Lou Grant”), Ned Beatty, Meredith Baxter, Polly Holliday (“Alice”) and John McMartin. Great early in the movie is Nicolas Coster as a high-powered lawyer harangued by Woodward over attending the arraignment of the break-in suspects.
One particularly interesting piece of “All the President’s Men” casting is that of Frank Wills, the security guard who discovered the break-in; he appears as himself in one of the film’s first scenes. That’s a fairly rare instance of someone who was part of historical fact also factoring into the re-creation, but it’s also part of the overall genius of “All the President’s Men,” still a unique and vital motion picture in so many ways.