The American Society of Cinematographers

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Da Vinci Code
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All the Pres Men
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All the President's Men (1976)

Special Edition
1.85:1 (16x9 Enhanced)
Dolby Digital 2.0
Warner Home Video, $26.98

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 Parallax 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.

Warner Home Video’s two-disc special edition DVD of All the President’s Men is a solid upgrade from the bare-bones 1997 edition, which featured a disappointing picture transfer. The image has been transferred at a higher bit-rate with better compression, giving the intentionally grainy look of the film a more organic appearance. Except for minor signs of source-material wear, the images have their intended crispness and appropriate contrasts. The monaural soundtrack is clear of distortion and has a pleasing bass quality.

The big news is the generous array of supplements included in the package. Disc one presents the feature, its theatrical trailer, and several trailers for other thrillers Pakula directed, and Redford supplies an interesting and insightful audio commentary about the genesis of the project and the struggle to get it made. He speaks of the production and of his association with the late Pakula with pride.

Disc two offers three new documentary featurettes directed, produced and written by Gary Leva that total more than 70 minutes. Participants include Redford, Hoffman, Willis, Woodward, Bernstein, Bradlee, screenwriter William Goldman, and journalists Linda Ellerbee and Walter Cronkite. The segments are well-executed in general, but the awkward musical accompaniment they have been paired with tends to undermine some of the proceedings. The last two supplements are a 10-minute publicity featurette from 1976, “Pressure and the Press: The Making of All the President’s Men,” and a fun, seven-minute clip from the talk show Dinah! that features Robards discussing his portrayal of Bradlee.

The recent revelation that W. Mark Felt, former deputy director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, was the real “Deep Throat” is just one worthy reason to dust off All The President’s Men for a new edition. Although some younger viewers will be shocked by how much Woodward and Bernstein were able to uncover without the aid of the Internet or cellular phones, there is plenty more to be shocked about in the picture. It remains a strong testament to the necessity for investigative reporting in the face of an increasingly intimidating government.

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