How Accurate Is: All The President’s Men (Movie, 1976, Alan J. Pakula)

Hello everyone! Today’s (long-delayed) post will be on the 1976 film All the President’s Men, starring Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman, and directed by Alan J. Pakula. This film chronicles the Washington Post investigation of the Watergate Scandal and, like the 2015 Best Picture winner Spotlight, focuses almost exclusively on the investigation itself. The film is very strong overall. Similar to the process of investigative journalism, it is slow-moving in parts; however, it never lets the audience forget what is at stake. Robert Redford in particular does an excellent job as Bob Woodward, and Hoffman as Carl Bernstein is also a strong performance. With regards to historical accuracy, All the President’s Men is one of the most accurate films this site has reviewed.

Bob Woodward in 2002.

In part, the historical accuracy of All The President’s Men is due to the fact that the director did not mind making a slow-moving film. Many of the inaccuracies in previous films discussed here are due to the fact that the historical record does not always make for the most exciting (or speedy) viewing; therefore, key events are cut out entirely or are trimmed or combined with neighbouring events to make the plot more interesting. In this film, however, none of this is done; the events follow the historical timeline, more or less, although it can sometimes be difficult to determine how long has passed between individual scenes. Another factor which worked to the film’s advantage was that it came out only four years after the events it depicts occurred; both Bernstein and Woodward commented on the initial drafts of the screenplay, for instance.[1] Similarly, the film made extensive use of the articles they published on Watergate (and the eponymous book by the two), and was therefore able to work details from those articles (including a memorable quote by John Mitchell) directly into the film.[2]

Carl Bernstein in 2007

These factors combined result in a very accurate film; most important details, from the method of organizing a meeting with Deep Throat (the mysterious source of Bernstein and Woodward, later revealed to be Mark Felt, then the number two at the FBI) to the specific order of events in the investigation, are rendered accurately.[3] The only inaccuracies, such as they are, consist of the absence of very small details about the investigation; in rendering the complicated process involved to set up a meeting with Deep Throat, for instance, the film leaves out the appearance of the hands of a clock on Page 20 of Woodward’s copy of the New York Times.[4]

Overall, All the President’s Men manages to be both accurate and entertaining. There are many factors that allow it to be accurate while other films are not, but it is nonetheless to the credit of the director and writers that they chose the path of historical accuracy. The film is also important, demonstrating (along with the aforementioned Spotlight) both the importance and the potential impact of investigative journalists in a period when they seem to be a dying breed. This film, unsurprisingly, comes with strong recommendations.

Sources:

1 The University of Texas at Austin Harry Ransom Center. “The Woodward and Bernstein Watergate Papers.” n.d. http://www.hrc.utexas.edu/exhibitions/web/woodstein/apm/index2.html.

2 Bernstein, Carl and Bob Woodward. “Mitchell Controlled Secret GOP Fund.” Washington Post. September 29 1972. https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/mitchell-controlled-secret-gop-fund/2012/06/06/gJQAOcAKJV_story.html?utm_term=.bdc957754b3c.

3 For Felt, see O’Connor, John D. “‘I’m the Guy They Called Deep Throat’.” Vanity Fair. July 2005. http://www.vanityfair.com/news/politics/2005/07/deepthroat200507.

4 O’Connor, John D. “‘I’m the Guy They Called Deep Throat’.” Vanity Fair. July 2005. http://www.vanityfair.com/news/politics/2005/07/deepthroat200507.

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