Each week, this column will cover one film on the American Film Institute’s list of the 100 greatest American films of all time, covering my general thoughts on the film and whether or not I think it belongs on the list. You can also see my personal ranking here. This week’s film is #77 on the list: All the President’s Men (1976).
In the decades since All the President’s Men, there’s been no shortage of dramas about reporters shedding light on high-level government/corporate crime—though it’s easy to forget mediocre recent efforts like Dark Waters and The Report—but Pakula’s film is singular. His approach is so devoid of sensationalism, it’s borderline uncinematic. We watch as Woodward and Bernstein uncover the Watergate scandal one phone call at a time, in grueling detail. The focus on naturalism is refreshing, especially contrasted with modern Oscar-baity newspaper dramas which take plenty of liberties to heighten and exaggerate events, but it’s more admirable in theory than it is enjoyable or entertaining to watch. Redford and Hoffman are Hollywood legends with a wealth of charisma between the two of them, but they’re almost playing against type here, portraying reporters whose determination overshadows any other personality traits. When it comes to stories about people doing their job very well, this is a bonafide classic, and it’s invaluable as a depiction of American history, but for better and worse, the authenticity renders it less compelling.
Does It Belong on the List?
It’s a tough call, but I have to say no. Its historical importance doesn’t outweigh its shortcomings, and the genre has better to offer—I’ll take Zodiac or Spotlight any day, and no, I don’t just love Ruffalo (see: my Dark Waters review).