Twitter Plot Summary: The Watergate scandal as told from the perspective of the journalists who uncovered it.
The Watergate scandal marked one of the most notable moments of the 19th and thoroughly shook up the world of politics in the United States. It is therefore of great interest to see a film dramatising those events and exploring the work of the journalists who investigated the matter and were eventually able to blow the whole thing wide open. The film spins out from the book by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward which documented the Watergate scandal shortly after the event.
It’s worth keeping in mind that at the time of release this film was still topical, yet even after 40 years it’s still a story that packs a punch. This is in no small thanks to the power of the story itself, a political thriller in which the most powerful man in the country is taken down. Alan J Pakula’s direction allows the actors room to use the material to its full potential, not cutting away too quickly. In one instance he even keeps Robert Redford on screen for several minutes as he makes a telephone call. It’s testament to Pakula’s belief in Redford’s ability to carry a scene especially given that we don’t hear the other side of the conversation, and despite Redford’s minor flub at the end of the call.
The story is carried with ease by Redford and Dustin Hoffman, initially at loggerheads with one another before joining forces on what at first appears to be just another standard story of no real interest. Redford plays Woodward, a new reporter at the Washington Post, and Dustin Hoffman – epic 70s hairstyle and all – plays Bernstein, another reporter at the Post. Together, they investigate the information given to them, in particular from anonymous government source Deep Throat, so-named because of the pornographic film of that name released around the time of the scandal – you’ll understand the connotations when watching the film.
The paranoia facing both characters is well realised, in particular a noticeably tense sequence featuring Redford walking alone late at night, entirely certain that somebody is following him in the shadows. The depiction of journalistic enterprise, the dead ends that sometimes occur and the unwillingness of named sources from providing any concrete information.
Suffice to say it’s a thoroughly engaging film from start to finish, the political machinations running deep, more and more so as the layers unravel and Bernstein and Woodward discover how far down the rabbit hole goes. You’d be hard pressed these days to find a film as engaging as this, in particular one where there are no action sequences, no direct threat to the reporters other than perhaps the one they create themselves, no unique selling point beyond the performers and the unravelling of the complex machinations of Watergate. You may need your brain engaged in order to understand everything that takes place, but this can’t be considered a bad thing. Indeed, it’s a rare beast for not throwing in explosions and literal action beats for the sake of it rather than the well thought out, cerebral thriller it turned out to be.