The Movies-to-Watch List: All the President’s Men (1976)

Only one movie remained on my 2015 Movies-to-Watch list: 1984’s Buckaroo Banzai. It was a controversial choice when I first included it, but I thought I’d try and get through it this time. It was not to be. It’s not on Netflix Watch Instantly, and although we could have put the disk in our queue, when you’re faced with ordering Buckaroo Banzai or just about anything else, well…there’s a reason it was the last one remaining. I had a copy I downloaded ages ago, but it’s in a video format nothing except my computer likes, so it was either watch it on my laptop or download another. And nobody was telling me the effort was worth it. So I scrubbed it from the list and subbed in a disk Becky had ordered that was a contender for the list originally, All the President’s Men.

There have been several movies I’ve seen that make me think I just do not get movies, period. Wings of Desire I thought would absolutely never end, and I’m not sure I even made it through all the way. The Social Network was, I thought, a needless view of a character who starts out as an asshole and eventually becomes a richer asshole (I felt similarly about There Will Be Blood.) There’s another that springs to mind, and the experience I had with it was similar to that I had with All the President’s Men.

I know the story of Watergate. I know how the events behind it played out, from the burglary to Nixon’s resignation. I know the cast of horrible people, each more despicable than the last. And I know, of course, that it was a big deal. I know all that from things I’ve read (though not the book on which the movie was based.) But I didn’t get any of it from the movie. Sure, in 1976 this was completely fresh in everyone’s mind. But here in 2015, the story that Woodward and Bernstein are working on is utterly opaque. I don’t get the sense from anyone, including the reporters, that this is a huge deal. We’re told about people being threatened and spied on and bugged and such, but we don’t see any of this. It’s like a horror movie in which people are constantly talking about the Creepity Spookum but it never actually shows up. I just never got any feeling of genuine tension during the movie. Who are these people? What are we even accusing them of? What’s the danger here?

This goes for the characters as well, what there are. Woodward and Bernstein are absolute enigmas, coat racks with press cards. Hardly any of the scenes give them any kind of depth or insight. Their superiors show character, particularly Jack Warden and Jason Robards, but the material doesn’t really rise to it. Jason Robards is showing terrific concern over the quality of the story but nothing is playing off of him.

The movie I’m reminded of is 2007’s Zodiac, which trod similar ground. Again, this was a subject of which I already knew a fair amount, but I once more got no sense of it from within the movie. And, like those other movies I mentioned, it’s highly regarded. It didn’t do anything for me. I didn’t have any sense of the story or the people covering it, or why I was watching a movie instead of a documentary or reading a book. I didn’t see the point in this even being a movie.

I don’t know what I would have wanted out of All the President’s Men. Obviously I don’t need there to be a car chase and rocket launcher shootout between G. Gordon Liddy and Carl Bernstein, though now that I say it I most sincerely do want that. I realize that, for the most part, this is how it actually happened, but that doesn’t, for me, ensure it’s actually interesting. The part where they need a super secret document, so they ask the girl, “can you get this?” and she says no, but then the next day she gives it to them in full, that’s just not super gripping storytelling.

So yeah, I just didn’t appreciate All the President’s Men much at all. And I know it’s well-loved, but it bounced right off of me. I guess I’m just a bonehead when it comes to appreciating film.

Despite that, there will be a Movies-to-Watch list for 2016.

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