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All The President's Men (Blu-ray)
Warner Brothers / 1976 / 138 Minutes / Rated PG
Street Date: February 15, 2011
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Reviewed by David Krauss
Friday, February 11, 2011
Like many of my generation, 'All the President's Men' was the film that inspired me to become a journalist. Though Alan J. Pakula's chronicle of the dogged reporting that ultimately blew the lid off the Watergate incident and brought down our nation's Commander-in-Chief never glamorizes the profession, it makes even the drudgery of endless phone calls, exhausting legwork, and constant pressure seem thrilling. Of course, there's a huge difference between covering what would become one of the biggest stories of the 20th century and a local school board meeting, but 'All the President's Men' depicts the pursuit of the truth as a noble, vital calling that yields tremendous satisfaction and potentially great rewards. It also provides hands-down the most realistic look at the newspaper business and all the myriad elements that go into producing solid journalism than any other movie in history.
The saga of the botched break-in at the Democratic National Headquarters in the summer of 1972 during President Richard Nixon's reelection campaign is well known, and we're all aware of the direct, if circuitous, link between the thugs who tried unsuccessfully to plant surveillance devices in the committee's offices and White House bigwigs. The ensuing cover-up eventually forced Nixon's unprecedented resignation, but were it not for a couple of young, hungry, green, and stubbornly tenacious Washington Post reporters, such an act might never have occurred, and our government and society might be far different than they are today.
Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) and Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) are now household names, but back then they were unheralded scribes who merely fell into what seemed on the surface to be a run-of-the-mill burglary-gone-wrong story. But when Woodward learns one of the defendants has CIA ties, he knows he's on to something, and begins the arduous process of tracking down leads and unearthing pieces of evidence that soon form a troubling picture of high-level government corruption. Bernstein, a chain-smoking Jewish liberal who's a bit of a loose cannon, is the polar opposite of the conservative, WASP-ish, by-the-book Woodward, but the two make a dynamic team, even as they initially butt heads personally and professionally. The Post's crew of crusty editors, led by the charismatic Ben Bradlee (Jason Robards in an Oscar-winning portrayal), nurture and browbeat them along, continually pushing for more facts, while a mysterious anonymous source (Hal Holbrook) nicknamed Deep Throat drops Woodward cryptic clues and corroborates information as the story starts to pick up steam.
Much like a mystery featuring Hercule Poirot or Sherlock Holmes, 'All the President's Men' is first and foremost a detective yarn. We see how Woodward and Bernstein methodically investigate their subject, pick up on subtle slip-ups and offhand comments, and try to wring morsels of pertinent information from reluctant, often frightened interviewees. It's the roll-up-your-sleeves, pound-the-pavement, get-your-hands-dirty kind of journalism that's practically obsolete in our current technological age, where rumor and innuendo all too often eclipse solid, factual reporting. And yet there's an intoxicating edge to the grunginess and tedium, even the mounting paranoia and fear that consume Woodward and Bernstein as they inch ever closer to igniting the fatal fuse that would eventually implode the Nixon administration.
Since we all know the outcome of Woodward and Bernstein's investigation, the film's fascination stems from how the duo uncovers the facts and overcomes the obstacles in their path, and Pakula masterfully depicts the slow, steady, frustrating journey. Like the ever-present deadlines hanging over the reporters' heads, there's a quiet sense of urgency running through the movie that keeps it taut even as the pair performs mundane tasks, and some cloak-and-dagger suspense swirling around Deep Throat also ramps up tension. For me personally, though, just watching and absorbing the inner workings of a large national daily consumes the bulk of my interest. It's obvious the filmmakers paid a great deal of attention to properly recreating the newsroom atmosphere, editorial meetings, and closed-door conferences about sensitive matters, and the result is a high degree of authenticity few other journalism films come close to matching.
'All the President's Men' holds up well as it nears its 35th anniversary, but unfortunately the lack of topicality slightly dulls its impact. I remember seeing the film as a wide-eyed 13-year-old during its initial theatrical run, just two years after Nixon's resignation, when the Watergate wounds were still fresh and the names of the participants - Hunt, Haldeman, Ehrlichman, Mitchell, Colson, Segretti - were still on the tips of everyone's tongues. The mixture of immediacy and notoriety added an extra layer of heady excitement to the action. Yet for those just discovering the movie today, I can't help but think the unfamiliarity of most of the figures tempers that buzz just a tad.
Still, 'All the President's Men' never fails to win our respect and admiration. Pakula's first-rate direction, the believable performances of Redford and Hoffman, the absorbing subject matter, Gordon Willis' stellar cinematography, and excellent supporting work from such fine actors as Robards, Jack Weston, Martin Balsam, Ned Beatty, and Jane Alexander all contribute to a film that's as important for what it says as it is for how it's presented. As long as there's democracy, a free press, and a news industry, 'All the President's Men' will remain relevant and stand as an example of how to attack a story with purpose, vigor, and integrity.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'All the President's Men' comes packaged in another attractive Warner digibook that houses 40 glossy pages of handsomely laid out text and photos between its hardbound covers. Both black-and-white and color pictures, including a great shot of the film's stars alongside their real-life counterparts, are interspersed among bios of the prominent actors and director, an essay about the movie's impact and relevance, and a brief column about the man behind the Deep Throat moniker. There's also a fascinating timeline that runs throughout the volume chronicling the major events of the Watergate scandal.
The BD-50 dual-layer disc sits snugly inside the digibook's back cover. Video codec is 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 and the primary audio option is a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track. Upon insertion, a static menu with music pops up after the Warner logo; typical of Warner catalogue titles, no promos or previews precede the menu.
'All the President's Men' arrives on Blu-ray sporting an above-average 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer that preserves the film's original look. The source material has been scrubbed clean of any annoying defects, such as marks and scratches, but appears slightly faded overall. Well-modulated contrast, however, maximizes the vibrancy of the muted palette, and nicely saturated bursts of color - the red newsroom chairs and green grass and hedges outdoors - substantially perk up the picture. Fleshtones often seem a bit ruddy, but black levels are solid, and though there's some occasional instances of crush, shadow delineation, especially in the Deep Throat garage sequences, is generally good.
Grain is quite noticeable, providing a highly filmic presentation that may put off those who prefer a sleeker look, but the image still exhibits a pleasing degree of clarity. You can see the dirty blotches and smudges on the white newsroom walls very clearly, and close-ups show off facial details well. Backgrounds, however, often flaunt some fuzziness.
This is a very natural-looking transfer that lacks any digital doctoring. Purists and fans who recall the film from its original release should be satisfied.
Warner provides a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track that makes up in clarity what it lacks in multi-channel activity. The startling opening with the typewriter keys crashing against a sheet of paper will grab anyone's attention, and other bursts of sound throughout the course of the picture are equally stirring. Details, such as pencils scribbling across notepads, footsteps pounding the pavement, and the rattling of rotary phone dials, not to mention the almost constant clack-clack-clack of typewriters, are all quite distinct, and good dynamic range prevents any break-up or distortion.
Dialogue is always easy to understand, and David Shire's music score enjoys fine presence and tonal depth. Save for an airplane flying overhead during one of the exterior scenes, there's not much bass involvement, but subwoofer action is not missed in this type of film. One can only imagine the increased ambience of the bustling newsroom if 'All the President's Men' possessed multi-channel audio, but the stereo track does a surprisingly good job of immersing us in the atmosphere. All in all, this is a very solid presentation that should please the film's fans.
A fine array of supplements enhance the disc. All of the material from the 2006 special edition DVD, with the exception of the Alan J. Pakula trailer gallery, has been ported over to this Blu-ray release.
- Audio Commentary – Producer-actor Robert Redford sits down for a thoughtful, informative commentary that covers both the nuts and bolts of the film's production and his interactions with the actual personalities depicted on screen. Redford talks about the real-life tensions that existed between Woodward and Bernstein, the difficulties he faced in trying to get a handle on Woodward's character, and his personal bonds with Hoffman, Robards, and Pakula. He also goes into detail about his struggle to get the film made, and the resistance he often encountered from industry executives. Creative choices are examined as well, including cinematographer Gordon Willis' striking use of light and shadow, and Redford provides some insight on Woodward's relationship with Mark Felt, the man who revealed himself to be Deep Throat. Though it occasionally drags and features some gaps, this low-key commentary is still definitely worth the time investment.
- Featurette: "Telling the Truth About Lies: The Making of 'All the President's Men'" (SD, 28 minutes) – This slick yet captivating mini-documentary chronicles the film's journey to the screen, beginning with Redford's initial fascination with the reporters behind the Watergate investigation, and screenwriter William Goldman's concern over the potential "Hollywood-ization" of the story. We also learn about casting (Hoffman recalls being offered the part of Bernstein by Redford at a New York Knicks game), how the script evolved during shooting, and the dogged pursuit of authenticity down to actual Washington Post garbage in the on-set wastebaskets. Cinematographer Gordon Willis outlines his filming philosophy, actress Jane Alexander discusses Hoffman's spontaneity and energy, and all involved salute the talent and sensitivity of director Pakula. Vintage photos, behind-the-scenes footage, and comments from Woodward, Bernstein, Ben Bradlee, Redford, and others help make this a comprehensive and involving piece.
- Featurette: "Woodward and Bernstein: Lighting the Fire" (SD, 18 minutes) – Anyone interested in the finer points of journalism will find much of interest in this insightful featurette that looks at the impact of Woodward and Bernstein's work, how the Watergate story may have been reported differently today, the self-censorship and corporate bias of today's newsrooms, the good and bad journalistic legacies of Watergate, how the public's perception of reporters has changed over the years, and the dying nature of true investigative journalism. A host of experts weigh in on these topics, including Walter Cronkite, Linda Ellerbee, director Oliver Stone, Jonathan Alter, and Woodward and Bernstein themselves.
- Featurette: "Out of the Shadows: The Man Who Was Deep Throat" (SD, 16 minutes) – This piece speculates about the motivations that led senior FBI official Mark Felt, whom Woodward calls "the ultimate tormented man," to secretly leak critical information about the Watergate scandal. Precious little background information on Felt is provided, but we do learn he was heavily influenced by J. Edgar Hoover. The featurette also examines the critical value of anonymous sources to journalists and the checks and balances the press provides to our democratic system of government.
- Featurette: "Pressure and the Press: The Making of 'All the President's Men'" (SD, 10 minutes) – This vintage featurette boasts plenty of on-set footage and interviews with Woodward, Bernstein, Bradlee, Redford, and Pakula recorded at the time of the film's release, in which they discuss their experiences and the nature of the movie based upon them.
- Vintage TV Clip (SD, 7 minutes) – Dinah Shore interviews Jason Robards on the May 27, 1976 edition of her daytime talk show and rhapsodizes about the film. She asks Robards about his relationship with Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee, and claims she believes she knows the true identity of Deep Throat. (Yeah, right, Dinah.)
- Theatrical Trailer (SD, 3 minutes) – A trailer for the film, released after the 1976 Academy Award nominations had been announced, is included on the disc.
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Arguably the greatest journalism film ever made, 'All the President's Men' renews our respect for the press and appreciation of the First Amendment. What was once a Watergate movie is now simply a taut detective story that celebrates the art of reporting and spirit of determination. Redford and Hoffman make a dynamic team, yet their star wattage doesn't diminish the power of this important, always relevant picture. Warner's digibook presentation is typically classy, featuring solid video and audio and all the supplements from the previous special edition DVD. Politicos, journalism junkies, and film buffs all need to pick this one up. Highly recommended.
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