All the President’s Men (1976)

AFI’s Top 100 Movies (2007)

Elise Bulaoro, Reporter

All the President’s Men, directed by Alan J. Pakula, powerfully illustrates one of the most famous political scandals in history, Watergate. The film was based on a book by the same name, written by the Washington Post reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, who are credited for their large part in uncovering the truth about Watergate. The film was created from intricate interviews, and studies of the events and accounts leading to the scandal. Director Alan J. Pakula, screenwriter William Goldman, and stars Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman masterfully shined light on a shadowy and secretive political scandal. All the President’s Men went on to receive many awards, and made impactful and significant influences in the field of journalism.  


The film opens with the break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate Hotel. Five men are arrested, found guilty of planting bugging devices throughout the headquarters, and are brought into court. Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) of The Washington Post is assigned coverage of this trial, and what is assumed to be a “minor break-in”. However, Woodward finds himself intrigued by the murky discovery of one of the defendant’s past employment in the C.I.A, as well as the fact that all five defendants were represented by a highly distinguished attorney. 


Woodward makes a connection between the defendants, and an employee of Richard Nixon’s White House Counsel, Charles Colson, and stresses the growing significance of this story to Washington Post Executive Director, Benjamin Bradlee. Bradlee assigns another reporter, Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman), to work with Woodward on this suspicious story. 


While reluctant to work with each other, Woodward and Bernstein become a fierce and relentless team who uncover dark truths and secrets to uncover the mystery of Watergate. They investigate the connections revealed between the defendants and employee’s of Nixon, leading to Nixon’s Committee to Reelect the President (CREEP). With uncompromising determination, Woodward and Bernstein unearth evidence of illegal activity and slush funds, used by the Nixon administration to sabotage the Democratic party. This investigation was later credited to the resignation of Richard Nixon in 1974. 


This film came out in 1976, two years after Nixon’s resignation and four years after the Watergate scandal. It was an immediate hit, reaching around $70 million at the box office, as well as earning four oscars. 


Both Woodward and Bernstein were very present during production, and were given authority to fact check and read the scripts. Neither wanted this film to become a dramatic, Hollywood fabrication of the real story, which the script seemed to be at first. Originally, the script involved more information about the characters of Berstein and Woodward, and included several different personal storylines.Starring actors Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman both made a diligent effort to portray these men correctly, and spent much time with them. However after much consideration, the personal storylines of both men were scrapped, and the focus was on what they had done. 


Apart from box office success, All the President’s Men had a great impact in the world of journalism. It’s celebrated for its accurate portrayal of investigative journalism and the importance of the press. According to the Washington Post’s article “How ‘All the President’s Men’ went from buddy flick to masterpiece””, this film is used by journalism professors to “demonstrate the daily grind of reporting, from working on phones to knocking on doors”. 


Even years after its release, All the President’s Men can be found culturally significant from its accurate and compelling depiction of the Watergate scandal.