All the President's Men is the movie Zodiac wanted to be in that it stays interesting. Both involve up-and-coming journalists trying to break on a story no one else will, but while Zodiac has the baby face of Jake Gyllenhaal and too little Robert Downey Jr., All the President's Men has the powerhouse duo of Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman and also, there is a climax and conclusion to the story.
In the run-up to the 1972 elections, Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward covers what seems to be a minor break-in at the Democratic Party National headquarters. He is surprised to find top lawyers already on the defense case, and the discovery of names and addresses of Republican fund organizers on the accused further arouses his suspicions. The editor of the Post is prepared to run with the story and assigns Woodward and Carl Bernstein to it. They find the trail leading higher and higher in the Republican Party, and eventually into the White House itself. (IMDb, because I'm too lazy to do it myself)Mostly, this movie ended up being more engaging and interesting than I had hoped and I am in love with it. Let's number the reasons why:
1. The pairing of Redford and Hoffman. Redford tends to play a good everyman, kind of straight-laced good guy, and that's what he does here. Hoffman is always a little quirky, and in this film he's just charming--especially with his flowing man-locks.
The combination of these two isn't that of comedic differences, but of seeing two guys with different styles break a story. The relationship is subtle, realistic, and nice to see unfold. They both bring a degree of passion and gumption that make the characters more interesting than just guys doing their job. And seeing Hoffman hit on women make my life, probably because I'm used to his latter body of work where he's an older, go-to guru.
2. The assumption that the audience isn't dumb. While I'm not very well-versed in 70s politics, I remember enough from AP US History to follow along. This wouldn't have been a problem for most Americans in the 1976 when this film came out since it was their context, but the way they brush through names and conclusions assumes the audience can follow along even with the more complex stuff.
3. Shadowy inside source. Literally shadowy. Deep Throat is kind of like a combination of Cancer Man and Mr. X from the X-Files.
4. The cinematography. If this was made today, the film might have had more of a Wally Pfister- never-stop-moving-the-camera-to-create-tension style*, but thank goodness it didn't. More than anything, the placement of a usually stationary camera allowed the very capable actors to create tension. Really, the movie is about a couple young guys trying to break through with a huge story, which involves phone calls, home visits, and library research. Not the most interesting stuff, but with good actors in appropriate camera distances, it gets intense. My favorite camera placements allowed you to see the entire newsroom, and Redford and Hoffman running between desks to talk to each other or their boss. In that shot you get two things by contrast of their surroundings: the fact that they are two guys basically ignored by the rest of the newsroom, and that they are working hard.
5. Along with cinematography, the editing. Besides regular cutting between speakers in a conversation, the scenes are done in long takes, which again allows the actors to perform and create their own tension. There's something beautiful about seeing actors get to act without their performance spliced up. We can see subtle facial expressions, natural rhythms in conversation, and a bigger sense of realism. I'm a sucker for long takes, and this film delivered.
6. The conclusion (SPOILER: they take down Nixon) is done through watching a typewriter type out the resulting story. We see that people resign are arrested, etc. in much the same way many of the stories that Woodward and Bernstein write are shown to the audience. Full circle in so many ways.
Overall feeling: Good acting, predictable plot, and unobtrusive directing, this movie is pretty good. I had an overwhelming sense of satisfaction at the end of the movie because it was done so well. Just consistently good. Also, did I mention Dustin Hoffman's hair?
*The Dark Knight, The Prestige, Batman Begins--seriously, the camera never just lingers.