There is little surprise that the many of the most memorable D.C. films are about journalists. The essential purpose of this town – or should I say #ThisTown – is the function of the federal government. This is the status quo, the Machine, and The Man all rolled into one. Celebrating federal work hardly makes for exciting cinema, but the function of truth-seeking journalists has a quixotic appeal that’s more fun in the movies. And no movie epitomizes this ideal than All the President’s Men.
Directed by Alan J. Pakula, the film has become shorthand for lofty journalism and a dogged kind of procedural. People forget that years passed between the Watergate break-in and Nixon’s resignation; they also forget Woodward (Robert Redford) and Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) were low in the Washington Post’s hierarchy at that time. The interesting thing about the film is that Redford/Hoffman were arguably the most popular actors during its release, and yet their performances eschew anything showy. Their characters speak in shorthand, never have any histrionics, and spend most of the movie cold-calling leads. Its focus is so narrow that it’s almost surprising William Goldman won the Oscar for Best Adapted screenplay.
For all its success, All the President’s Men has no great D.C. scene. Pakula’s direction is claustrophobic, whether he films in the infamous Rosslyn parking garage, outside gorgeous D.C. mansions, or in the Post’s newsroom. This tight cinematography, absent any grand exteriors, oddly encapsulates the life of Type-A DC professionals. Many of them never enjoy the sights, or stop to ponder the city’s gorgeous architecture. For them, D.C. life is just commuting, working, sleeping, with the occasional drink to pass the time. Sometimes that feels like my life here, and I’m sure it feels like yours, too.
Note: Jason Robards won an Oscar for portraying Ben Bradlee, the same person Tom Hanks plays in The Post. Hanks is older now than Robards was when he played Bradlee, but thanks to his distinctive forehead lines, Robards looks a lot older. It is an interesting footnote about how Hollywood beauty standards evolve over time.