Cinema: Watergate on Film

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The praise is generous, perhaps too much so. All the President's Men may be seen by many as an ego trip—the era's leading movie personality discovering that the only subject big enough for him is the era's most significant public event and latching on to it. Hoffman recently went to see the film version of James Whitmore's one-man show Give 'Em Hell, Harry and reports the audience cheered when Harry Truman stepped right up and called Richard Nixon "a lying son-of-a-bitch." He argued on the set that All the President's Men could have used one such uncool and cathartic moment, a moment when all the emotion it so carefully suppresses is allowed to burst through. Yet that moment's absence should not mar what must be a triumphant moment for Redford. For the first time he has fully mobilized all the forces within him "to let the bear out," as he once put it. That the end product so closely reflects his first vision of the film is a tribute to what a friend calls his "bulldog tenacity" in bending many wills to his own. "He supposedly has the world by the tail," observes Hal Holbrook, "but most people who have the world by the tail don't swing it quite so heavily or quite so publicly. I respect him for that, for taking that risk." It seems probable that a large number of people who know him less well will come to feel the same way after they have seen All the President's Men.

Perhaps the greatest risk involves the public, with its skeptical attitude toward the press and (in a different sense) toward Hollywood, both forces that shape American reality. Is the press, as seen through Watergate, by and large telling the truth about America? Is Hollywood telling the truth about the press? And do both deserve praise for it? Those are among the questions that Redford, perhaps not deliberately, raises with his remarkable movie. His own answer is obviously yes—and he is asking a huge audience to agree with him.

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