ACADEMY AWARD NOMINEE: BEST PICTURE
A pair of young Washington Post reporters uncover the Watergate scandal. Based on a true story. [Dir: Alan J. Pakula/ Robert Redford, Dustin Hoffman, Jason Robards/ 139 min/ Thriller/ Free Press as Hero, Corrupt Government]
This film depicts events leading up to the Watergate investigation, as chronicled by real-life reporters Woodward and Bernstein. Whether or not it’s entirely accurate (Woodward’s reputation as an honest source has since been tarnished), it presents an agreeable picture of a heroic watchdog press taking on a corrupt government.
The story begins with the botched Watergate break-in. At the arraignment for the Watergate burglars, Woodward learns two key facts: the burglars are former U.S. Central Intelligence Agency operatives, and they are being represented by a high-powered lawyer. Through relentless research—phone calls, examination of public documents, interviews with government insiders—Woodward and Bernstein manage to make a connection between the burglary and the White House…and the rest is history.
If only the press were like this more often! Satisfying as both political drama and detective story, it presents a credible and detailed picture of investigative reporters in action, puzzling out the truth despite a potentially lethal response from the desperate and powerful subjects of their investigation. It’s also a good reminder, as if we needed one of late, that the government cannot be relied upon to investigate itself. Over and over again in this story, the FBI, the Justice Department, etc.—all of them under the control of the White House—fail to follow leads that will incriminate those to whom they ultimately report.
These events are told in a spare, evenly paced style that sticks to the development of the case, but the facts themselves make it generally suspenseful. It’s a superior film, and one that anyone who doubts the potential for corruption at the highest levels of government should see. It won four Academy Awards.