26 October 2009

53. All the President's Men



The movie starts and ends with close-ups of a typewriter giving us the equivalent of title cards. Thematically this makes sense, but Pakula does us one better: he layers the sound of the typewriter with whips and bullets: words can be weapons.

This is a long movie (over two hours), but it is nonetheless tightly structured and scripted. Like "Zodiac", it's about process. Watch how Woodward and Bernstein go from task to task, from roadblock to roadblock, how they cajole and investigate, building upon small pieces of information to find a larger whole. This movie does the most simple yet most difficult thing a movie can do: it makes us wonder what will happen next. It does that by embodying the the suspense genre, but goes one further: we know the outcome -- Nixon resigned just a few short years before the movie was made -- but the writer and director have made us wonder how we get there.

Like "JFK", it's overflowing with the information given to the audience. We get character after character coming at us as audience, we get phone numbers, dates, names. To include a subplot, personal lives or a love interest would be ridiculous. Goldman keeps us with the task at hand, and then he's done.

And it doesn't hurt that he included some amazing dialogue on top.

As much as Goldman did a great job on the script, Pakula is great here. There's so much to admire here: His expert use of casting, with the two main character being the biggest movie stars of the time (so that we identify with them and go along on their journey), with character actors in supporting roles (Robards, Holbrooks, Balsam) and no-names in cameos; his expert sense of pacing, keeping the movie flowing from scene to scene with none wasted; his intercutting to doodles and other office detritus during phone conversations to keep the audience interested; his sense of mise-en-scene; his use of Gordon Willis' dual-focus and long lens cinematography that's
always in service of the story, often in subtle but profound ways.

Everyone loves William Goldman (as well they should), but Pakula is always underrated.

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