Magazine article American Cinematographer

All the President's Men

Magazine article American Cinematographer

All the President's Men

Article excerpt

All the President's Men

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In the early morning hours of June 17, 1972, several men were caught breaking into the Democratic Party headquarters at the Watergate Hotel in Washington D.C. When Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein began working on the story, neither expected it to become an exposé of one of the biggest political cover-ups in United States history. The pair eventually co-wrote the book All the President's Men, which detailed how the seemingly minor criminal incident led all the way to U.S. President Richard M. Nixon, who resigned in disgrace moments before he was to be impeached. Just a few years after its publication, Woodward and Bernstein's best-selling book became the basis for one of American cinema's most popular and enduring docudramas.

Directed by Alan J. Pakula and shot by Gordon Willis, ASC, All the President's Men covers the scandal that came to be known as "Watergate" beginning with the hotel break-in and ending with Nixon's resignation two years later. Working with tips from an anonymous, apparently high-ranking source he dubs "Deep Throat" (Hal Holbrook), Woodward (Robert Redford) works closely with Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) to piece together an increasingly strange puzzle of deception and corruption. As the puzzle's frame becomes clear, the White House began to apply pressure to the Washington Post, and both reporters begin to fear for their jobs - and eventually their lives.

Pakula and producer/star Redford wanted the picture to hew as close to reality as possible, and the filmmakers enjoyed full cooperation from Woodward, Bernstein and Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee. To give the film visual power, Pakula called on Willis, with whom he had collaborated on Klute (1971) and The Para/lax View (1974). The cinematographer's trademark approach of illuminating several layers of shadows and using heavy contrast to highlight dramatic tension proved an excellent stylistic choice. From the stark opening titles on a blinding-white page to the shadow-enshrouded parking garage where Woodward meets "Deep Throat," the picture has a divided sense of blacks and whites; there's a precise, almost clinical treatment of daylight, while night interiors and exteriors are muted, with a sense of grainy depth. There are often excellent visual references to what Willis describes as "a needle-in-a-haystack mentality," with the framing designed to overwhelm the journalists in particular sequences to underscore the enormity of their task and its implications. …

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