All the President's Men

All the President's Men ★★★★


Amazing what you can get away with when the subject is so recent and momentous that a general audience can be trusted to respond to minutiae. Zodiac actually seems concise by comparison (it also has a killer to cut away to for a while, whereas this is 100% investigation after the break-in), and Pakula continually makes choices that would be considered daft in almost any other Hollywood context: introducing his protagonists with zero fanfare, as if they were bit players; training the camera on notes and doodles in order to foreground a slow accumulation of bewildering detail; letting actors shout at each other over the sound of an airplane passing overhead, when neither the plane nor the shouting has any narrative function whatsoever. Acme is the extraordinary six-minute shot of Woodward juggling two phone calls, in which a split-focus diopter calls your attention to his colleagues gathering excitedly around a TV set far in the background for a reason never specified (or even remotely alluded to) even as a very slow zoom and Redford's sublime performance conspire to shove that distraction aside—all while we're being pelted with crucial but convoluted gobs of information. And did William Goldman really write this monomaniacal script, or did they just cut all the glib lines? It's a stupendous high-wire act, a near-perfect film...except that it abruptly ends at the midpoint, with the remaining two-and-a-half hours condensed into a 30-second teletype montage. (If ever a studio film needed to be five hours long, this one did.) I admire the boldness of concluding with Woodstein's biggest setback and letting our knowledge of their eventual vindication inform the final shot of them typing away through Nixon's inauguration (the film also fascinates now simply as a record of the pre-computer age, seeming at once modern and antediluvian), but it just doesn't work—I truly feel like I saw Part One of an epic masterpiece and Part Two somehow got destroyed. Give me my Rose Mary Woods!

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