Here I sit, thoroughly absorbed by executive producer/narrator Robert Redford’s “All the President’s Men Revisited,” a fresh and even stirring reminiscence airing Sunday on Discovery.
Redford and his crew, including director Peter Schnall, stylishly manage what countless think tank and journalism-school panel discussions struggle to do – cut through the recollections of the major players (Woodward, Bernstein, their boss Ben Bradlee, Nixon White House counsel John Dean, etc.) and utilize their well-trod anecdotes and war stories in a way that seems new.
Let’s face it: Watergate is fading before our eyes. Richard Nixon is nearly 20 years gone. Mark Felt, the FBI official who outed himself as “Deep Throat” in 2005, died four-plus years ago. And while The Post legends and ex-White House staffers (the film also talks to Hugh Sloan, Bud Krogh and Alexander Butterfield) come across as a relatively hale bunch in this film, it is the younger interview subjects who do the most to revivify the entire saga as both a political and cultural watershed.
Thus Jon Stewart of “The Daily Show” shares a bit of the ubiquitous and jowly impression of Richard Nixon he used to do as a boy. (Any child during the Watergate years remembers how you could get adults to laugh and pay attention to you with a well-timed slouch and “I am not a crook.”)
It’s smart of Redford and company to acknowledge all this. But their “All the President’s Men Revisited” is no Watergate for Dummies, either; it is as concerned with the historical ramifications as it is with the imprint on popular lore and culture. Those who lived through it will find what they’re looking for, whether it’s a renewed sense of apoplexy or just bemusement. Those who came along afterward won’t feel as if they’re being treated like a kid.
Through his narration, Redford, who portrayed Woodward in Alan J. Pakula’s still-popular 1976 movie, makes clear he’s working out a couple of things: What is Watergate’s resonance? What do we – as a culture – remember most? What’s different about the world now when compared to the world of 1972? He’s as interested in talking to Sloan and Dean as he is in talking to (co-star) Dustin Hoffman, who played Bernstein.
Ben Stein, who is glimpsed as a young man amongdoleful White House staffers listening to Nixon’s farewell speech in the East Room, reflects on it: “It’s really sad. I don’t think any president has been more persecuted than Nixon. I think he was a saint.”
Then Stein breaks into tears, which comes off as ridiculous or moving, depending on the viewer. This is the first project I’ve seen that seems to understand that when it comes to Watergate, there is something that remains deeply personal, and not just for the people who experienced it. We live – and even thrive – in the crater it left behind.
The Washington Post
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