The third film in Alan J. Pakula’s “Paranoia Trilogy,” All the President’s Men (1976), may be the best of them. This dramatization of the Watergate scandal stars Robert Redford as Bob Woodward, a young reporter for the Washington Post who lands what looks initially like a fairly pedestrian story: covering a burglary that took place in the Watergate hotel. At the courthouse, Woodward’s interest in piqued when he learns that the burglars – who had been carrying a walkie-talkie – do not have public defenders, but outside counsel. Pursuing this hunch, Woodward soon learns that the Watergate burglary may tie into the Republican political establishment, leading his superiors at the Post to team him up with more experienced reporter Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman). Together, steered by a mysterious insider dubbed “Deep Throat” (Hal Holbrook), the two reporters pursue the story, exposing the conspiracy that toppled Richard Nixon’s presidency.
Pakula’s directorial style in this “trilogy” – which also includes Klute and The Parallax View – is pretty much pure catnip for me, and All the President’s Men deploys it brilliantly in service to the dramatization of the notorious D.C. scandal. Indeed, the most remarkable thing about the film may be that it manages to render entertaining the mundane minutiae of reporting. Paranoia, indeed, is the key ingredient, because it manages to elevate tension throughout a film composed largely of scenes involving writers and editors talking, reading, typing, and conducting interviews. In the midst of such ordinary scenes, though, iconic conspiracy thriller elements are born, including the much imitiated (and satirized) “Deep Throat” parking garage trope. Redford and Hoffman are superb together in the leads, while the supporting cast includes such luminaries as Jane Alexander, Martin Balsam, Jason Robards, and Jack Warden. Packaged as a compelling thriller, it’s a fascinating look back at pre-internet journalism and the early seeds of the Republican political rot still threatening to scuttle American democracy today.