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Viewer Guide: “All The President’s Men” and “The Hero”

August 3, 2022 | Richard Peña

REEL 13 DOUBLE FEATURE | ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN

All The Presidents Men (1976).

This week’s double feature begins with All the President’s Men, the 1976 political thriller directed by Alan J. Pakula. 

With June 2022 having marked the 50th anniversary of the Watergate break-in, and now in the midst of the January 6th hearings, it’s perhaps more important than ever to revisit the film adaptation of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s Pulitzer Prize-winning account of their investigation of the Watergate story for The Washington Post. Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman co-star as Woodward and Bernstein, a pair of junior reporters working for the Post in the summer of 1972. When five burglars are arrested for breaking into the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee at Washington D.C.’s Watergate complex, Woodward is assigned to cover the case, although initially the story is only a minor item. Yet Woodward soon notices a series of odd details, including the use of sophisticated bugging equipment, the involvement of a former CIA employee, and a “country club” defense attorney being shadowed by another lawyer who has “nothing to say.” When Woodward and Bernstein are teamed to work on the story by the Post’s executive editor Ben Bradlee, played by Jason Robards, the ambitious duo steadily uncover more and more connections to the Committee to Re-elect the President—more commonly known as “CREEP.” And when Woodward’s anonymous inside source codenamed “Deep  Throat,” played by Hal Holbrook, both verifies and deepens the sinister nature of the story, the truth about “all the President’s men” begins to emerge from Washington’s dark shadows. 

Also featured in supporting roles are Jack Warden and Martin Balsam as the Post’s senior editors Harry Rosenfeld and Howard Simons, Stephen Collins and Jane Alexander as CREEP’s treasurer and bookkeeper, and Ned Beatty as Florida state attorney Martin Dardis. 

After repeated attempts, Robert Redford finally optioned the rights to Woodward and Bernstein’s best-selling account of their Watergate investigation in hopes of adapting it as a small-scale film with unknown actors. But when Warner Bros. took on the project, the studio insisted that Redford also star. As the film’s producer, Redford hired screenwriter William Goldman to write the script; it was Goldman who made the decision to limit the film to the first half of the book, and who actually coined the phrase “follow the money.” However, Redford and director Alan J. Pakula as well as Woodward and Bernstein were all unhappy with Goldman’s initial draft, with Redford and Pakula undertaking an uncredited rewrite themselves. When casting Hal Holbook as “Deep Throat,” Redford was concerned the choice might someday become laughably inaccurate should the anonymous informant’s identity ever be revealed, but Woodward’s lack of an objection to Holbrook gave Redford the confidence to proceed. In 2005, “Deep Throat” was finally revealed to have been FBI Associate Director Mark Felt, so Redford wasn’t that far off in his casting. Since The Washington Post wouldn’t permit any location shooting, the paper’s offices were recreated on two soundstages, with the Post’s actual office trash shipped to Los Angeles for set  decoration.  

Nominated for eight Academy Awards, Jason Robards won the year’s Best Supporting Actor Oscar; however, when William Goldman won for Best Adapted Screenplay, Redford was reportedly shocked by Goldman’s decision to accept the award. Also nominated for Best Picture, All the President’s Men lost to the year’s underdog blockbuster, Rocky. 

REEL 13 DOUBLE FEATURE | THE HERO

The Hero (2017).

This week’s double feature continues with The Hero, a 2017 romantic drama directed by Brett Haley. 

In a tailor-made role, Sam Elliott stars as Lee Hayden, a veteran Hollywood western star approaching his 72nd birthday without much to celebrate. Famed for his iconic performance in a movie titled “The Hero,” Lee’s glory days are now long behind him. After decades grinding out forgettable movies and TV shows, Lee has been reduced to doing voiceovers for barbecue sauce. In occasional contact with his ex-wife Valarie, a gallery owner played by Katharine Ross, Lee has nonetheless become semi-estranged from his daughter Lucy, played by Krysten Ritter, who still resents his long absences from her childhood. What’s more, Lee has developed a robust drug habit, with a former co-star named Jeremy, played by Nick Offerman, now serving as his dealer and de facto best friend. So when bad news arrives from his doctor’s office, Lee doesn’t really know who to talk to. Yet an encounter with a stand-up comic named Charlotte, played by Laura Prepon, makes it seem that, just for a moment, Lee might be able to step away from his disappointments and fears, and back into a present moment in which hope and courage are still possible.  

Writer-director Brett Haley had worked with Sam Elliott on the 2015 comedy-drama I’ll See You in My Dreams, with the pair becoming close friends in the process. In collaboration with screenwriter Marc Basch, Haley wrote The Hero specifically for Elliott, hoping to showcase the vulnerable side of a veteran star, as well as exploring the aftermath of vintage Hollywood fame as a man strives to find an authentic legacy that truly matters. Haley also wanted to explore a “May-December” relationship in realistic terms rather than present the usual male chauvinistic stereotype. Although containing clear parallels with Elliott’s actual career, the story of Lee Hayden’s personal life is completely fictionalized; in real life, Elliott had been married to his wife Katharine Ross for 33 years at the time of the film’s production, with Haley quipping that he wanted to finally give them the chance to play “ex-es.” In 2019, Elliott received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor for his pivotal role in the most recent adaptation of A Star is Born directed by Bradley Cooper. 

Richard Peña is a Professor of Film Studies at Columbia University, where he specializes in film theory and international cinema. 

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