All the President’s Men

All the President’s Men. Wildwood Enterprises 1976.

Before watching the movie:

I’ve always felt that the Watergate wiretapping investigation was the single moment that America lost popular faith in its government. Perhaps that’s a naive view of history before it. Certainly the Vietnam War was a black eye for the nation. And I know there were other scandals gaining headlines between the Civil War and the Great Depression. Not long ago I covered a movie about political corruption from the 30s.

I will certainly grant that corruption has been around as long as there has been power to abuse. But if I had to point to one reason why pretty much anyone will tell you they’re all crooks in Washington, I’d say it was the CREEP coverup revelation. That was, in my mind, when the spin broke down and we saw the President’s New Clothes. The day a sitting president resigned in disgrace to avoid impeachment was the day we stopped believing that as a whole, our leaders had our best interests at heart. At least, that’s the narrative I’ve developed as someone who was born almost two decades later, having lived in a world where no substantiated political scandal has yet compared.

After watching the movie:

When the Washington Post’s newsroom signs young reporter Bob Woodward to cover a burglary at the Watergate hotel, it’s a simple police story. But as he covers the legal proceedings, he finds that they were assigned counsel but turned out to have private counsel they couldn’t have had a chance to hire themselves. Following that mystery leads to uncovering a meeting with a someone who works for the Special Advisor to the President. As the story grows, younger Carl Bernstein joins with Woodward to help pursue and report the case. Everything about it indicates deep corruption, but no source will go on record, and hardly anyone will give any information at all. There are plenty of hints that this is something big, but hints and hearsay don’t make concrete journalism, and the harder they push, the higher the pushback comes from.

This doesn’t play much like a movie. It’s more a methodical presentation of events. It seems almost as clinical as the case studies Sherlock Holmes would prefer Watson write. Despite dealing with the very heart of what makes our free society work, there’s next to no emotional investment asked for by the narrative. The duo fight through cold trails to get their facts, but we don’t get any kind of personal level of narrative conflict, just the professional challenge. This is almost excusable by the fact that we as the audience know how things turned out.

The end seems very abrupt. I’d consider the story beat it concludes on to be the beginning of the third act. After a major reversal, they get back on their feet and roll up their sleeves… and then it’s over, and all their vindication comes from an epilogue told in headlines. Perhaps this decision came from realizing the movie was already reaching two and a half hours in length.

Perhaps due to the limitation of scope of the story told, there doesn’t seem to be time in those two and a half hours to really explore the gravity of just how big the conspiracy was. It’s a gut punch to learn how much of the government was in on the election interference, but then everything wraps up with all the mess of that handled off camera.  This further leaves the impression that nothing really matters in this movie about uncovering very important things.

Ultimately, this story isn’t as concerned with the erosion of democracy as it is with journalistic integrity. Journalists will say that journalistic integrity is key to democracy, but in this case, the report could only be made after the damage had been done. The scheme worked, all the papers could do was refuse to let it stick. And by the narrative shown here, even that was a long shot.

 

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Family Business

Family Business. Gordon Company 1989.

Before watching the movie:

I remember this came up very recently, but I don’t recall what it was in connection to. I think it was a related movie on IMDB, but I’m not even sure of that. Maybe it had sufficient keywords in common with The Sting, but I can’t recall for sure and it wasn’t there when I checked. What I am sure of is that the idea of Sean Connery, Dustin Hoffman, and Matthew Broderick playing a criminal family running a caper was something I needed immediately.

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Ishtar

Ishtar. Columbia Pictures 1987.
Ishtar. Columbia Pictures 1987.

Before watching the movie:

Finally, one of my most sought-after movies. I’ve been looking for this since before I started writing this blog. Widely regarded as perhaps the worst movie ever, I heard of it as a hilarious movie everyone else was wrong about. I’ve been looking for a chance to find out for myself for the better part of a decade, but due to its extreme unpopularity, it’s been hard to find until now.

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Rain Man

Rain Man. United Artists 1988.

Before watching the movie:

Until just a few minutes ago, all I knew about this film was that Dustin Hoffman (too soon for another Hoffman? Nah.) plays an autistic man in a praiseworthy manner, and it’s about the relationship between him and his brother. I didn’t even realize until now that the brother was played by Tom Cruise.  I was worried that the plot would be too much like Of Mice and Men for me, but it looks more like it’s about Cruise’s character being taught to be a better person and coming to love his brother.

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The Graduate

The Graduate. Embassy Pictures 1967.

Before watching the movie:

What I know about this movie is… well, the iconic scene. Surely the plot can’t be as simple as “he gets seduced by an older woman?” Sources seem to indicate it is, but I don’t see how it could have such staying power if that’s all there is. I’m a little comforted by the mention I see that he has no direction in life after graduation, so I guess it’s a coming of age story?

It was not until I had this copy in hand that I realized that the title character was played by a very young Dustin Hoffman. Sure, I’ve seen him mentioned in context with the film a few times, but somehow I never heard “Dustin Hoffman” when people said, “In The Graduate, Dustin Hoffman…” Continue reading