By Patrick Crain

In the cinematic world of Michael Mann, there are two figures who loom the largest. The first and most obvious one is Jean-Pierre Melville, French auteur whose cool visual style, obsession with the relationships between cops and criminals, and strict attention to detail and precision all informed the majority of Mann’s work. The second giant figure in Mann’s universe is Edward Bunker, master criminal who was also a gifted writer and turned his own real-life exploits into fodder for crime-obsessed filmmakers such as Mann and, later, Quentin Tarantino. While one-time cop Dennis Farinia and one-time thief John Santucci both lent their expertise to Mann’s world and filled it with the kind of details only professionals can articulate, it’s hard to imagine a character more important to our contemporary and cultural understanding of the professional criminal via broad, poetic, and genius stokes than Edward Bunker, both folk hero and ground zero for the Michael Mann archetype. So great was Bunker’s presence in the world of Michael Mann that, in Heat, Jon Voight’s criminal fixer, Nate, was modeled in both look and voice after Bunker.

And so it is that Straight Time, Ulu Grosbard’s film from 1978 based off of Bunker’s semi-autobiographical novel, No Beast So Fierce, is derived from a screenplay by Alvin Sargent, Jeffery Boam, and Bunker, with uncredited passes by the incomparable Nancy Dowd and, in his first feature film gig away from the confines of television, Michael Mann. Starring Dustin Hoffman as Bunker substitute Max Dembo, the film displays in very stark terms the incredibly limited and stifling choices afforded to an ex-con while also revealing, in the case the viewer wasn’t aware before watching it, why recidivism is a thing that occurs with an unfortunate frequency.

Straight Time is mostly what one would consider now a “hangout movie.” Nothing really much happens in terms of plot outside the trajectory of Max’s transformation from ex-con to fugitive with unsparing, heartbreaking detail (and rewarding invested audiences by making them amateur penologists). We meet the ex-cons in Dembo’s universe in their flophouses, modest starter homes, and even their middle-class suburban digs. But punching time-clocks, the routine of raising a family on the straight and narrow, and hosting backyard barbecues hold no life for these people. They are loners at heart and not much different from Pike and his men in Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch; rudderless souls to whom civilization is just another prison.

Despite it going through a few more cycles before hitting the screen, much of Michael Mann’s work is still imbedded the screenplay. There materializes a familiar, doomed romanticism between Dembo and Jenny (a dazzling Theresa Russell) which will also show up in numerous Mann works. If the restaurant scene between Hoffman and Russell feels familiar, it’s because it’s a dry run for the James Caan/Tuesday Weld diner scene in Thief. Additionally, Max’s usage of “What’s to it?” sounds like he could have been James Caan’s cellmate as it’s a favored piece of phraseology of the latter. The timed bank heist, the criminal detail, and the Los Angeles locations all lend themselves easily to what would later become Mann’s sandbox.

However, this material isn’t uniquely Michael Mann’s and Grosbard does a brilliant job infusing it with his own visual style. Defused night lighting, hot dog stands populated with the flotsam and jetsam of the evening, and the gross interiors of sketchy dive bars slam up against the scenes set in the blazingly bright Los Angeles daytime where Max hustles in his attempt to go legit, which loads Straight Time with a cinematic tension that straddles film noir and slice of life.

Aside from containing Dustin Hoffman’s career-best turn and a (shoulda been) star-making performance from Russell, Straight Time also benefits from a deep bench of supporting players doing some of their best work. M. Emmet Walsh is absolutely repellant as Max’s sleazy parole officer, Gary Busey and Harry Dean Stanton are 100% authentic as ex-cons desperate for some kind of action, and Kathy Bates gives a beautiful, nuanced performance that amounts to about three minutes of screen time but stops the film short to remind the audience of the sad reality that is the life of an ex-con.

While his metier at the time was churning out scripts for television crime shows like Starsky and Hutch and Police Story, tangling with Edward Bunker’s material was likely a watershed moment for Michael Mann as he found a vessel in Bunker’s prose which could keep him invested in the gritty world of crime while keeping the slick, visual ideas he would pioneer completely intact. And, quite fortuitously, it would serve Mann well the following year as his debut television film as a writer and director, The Jericho Mile, was actually shot in Folsom Prison and Peter Strauss’s main character is nothing if not a dress rehearsal for James Caan’s Frank in Thief. It’s a less polished mesh of the poetic and the procedural than what would come later but it would show the true bones of a filmmaker whose exposure to the real deal would create a filmography that would both redefine the crime film and would set the pole position for the visual and editing style that would dominate pop culture in the 1980’s.

Barry Levinson’s Rain Man

What I enjoyed most in Barry Levinson’s excellent Rain Man is that it didn’t cheap out with a faux sweet final cherry on top with the ending. What I mean by that is that in some stories about mentally challenged people, they will spend much of the film dealing with their conditions, the relatives, friends and doctors around them will help and periodically become frustrated by them and right near the end there will be this miraculous, parting of the clouds moment where a coherence comes through and the filmmakers attempt to manipulate the events by showing something unrealistic in order to make the story more palatable. Not this one. Dustin Hoffman is a method actor’s method actor and while I don’t always see the value in such focused, orchestrated and inorganic prep work, for this type of role it’s not only necessary, it’s crucial.

He plays Raymond here, a high functioning autistic man living in a care facility who is scooped up by his estranged younger brother Charlie (Tom Cruise). Charlie didn’t know he existed so it’s a bit of a shock and adjustment period for both, but really all he’s after is the three million inheritance money that’s gone into a trust in Raymond’s name, and all else he has to deal with results in frustration and lashing out. Charlie is a materialistic, caustic, self centred asshole when we meet him and one could argue who is in fact the more mentally challenged one given his immature behaviour. But that’s what character arcs are for, and Cruise’s here is something really special. At first he’s distant and short tempered with Raymon who, naturally, is tough to properly communicate with. But after spending time on the road together for weeks a bond forms and Charlie realizes that this man is the only real family he has left, and in a poignant series of interactions highlighted by one key conversation, the two become brothers again, or perhaps even for the first time, properly anyways. It’s a fantastic piece because the script treats these two with respect and let’s them be real human beings and not cloying plot devices. Cruise plays it hotheaded and then down to earth when the shift in his tone comes, I loved the scene best where he confronts Raymond’s doctor (Gerald R. Molen) about keeping his existence a secret this whole time. “It would’ve been nice to know I had a brother, and it would have been nice to be able to know him this whole time.” Cruise delivers the line offhandedly but the intention beneath cuts real deep. Hoffman is a series of mannerisms, behaviours and reactions that are clearly researched well, but he still lets the humanity and personality in Raymond shine through in every scene, he’s essentially multitasking with both sides of his brain and he fucking nails it. They’re supported by others including Valeria Golino as Charlie’s compassionate wife, Levinson himself as an irritating doctor prick, Lucinda Jenny, Beth Grant, Chris Mulkey and Bonnie Hunt who I’ve always had a huge crush on.

I like the choices made in this film. Many dramas like this get sort of way too down to earth and exist primarily in houses, hospitals, courtrooms and such. This one is essentially a buddy movie and much of it is spent on the road, which gives it a carefree, laidback feeling that lets the drama emanate through naturally of its own accord as opposed to setting up specific, intimate scenes and blocking the actors in such a way that you know it’s just meant to elicit heavy lifting in terms of performance. This film is different. They cruise down the highway, go for pancakes, gamble in Vegas and you truly get the sense that these are two real individuals living life and not existing inside the preordained vacuum of a heavily tailored script. I also loved Hans Zimmer’s light, ethereal score. There’s certain films where his composition is sort of non orchestral and counterintuitive, not what he’s used to. True Romance, Pacific Heights, Interstellar and this all feel like that, and the style suits the material here. What a great film.

-Nate Hill

Michael Mann’s Luck: A short lived masterpiece 

Michael Mann’s Luck was a painfully short lived HBO original series with reach-for-the-stars potential, a mind blowing cast and a terse, eccentric script from David Milch, all fuelling a brilliant ensemble storyline set in a pristine Los Angeles horse racing track. I’ll get the elephant out of the room right away: the series was cancelled due to a few of the horses dying on set, for whatever reasons. Had it been allowed to continue though, I imagine it would have gone on to become one of the network’s, and Mann’s, most hallowed and heralded works. Dustin Hoffman is the centrepiece of the cast as Chester ‘Ace’ Bernstein, a sharp witted Jewish mobster who’s recent stretch in the joint has somewhat dulled his edge. Nevertheless, he slyly takes a stab at playing his hand with horse ownership, joined by his charismatic driver Gus (Dennis Farina, reliably wonderful). There’s all kinds of other hoopla going on, and it’s cool to see the story focus on both the upper crust elite doing their shady deals as well as everyday joes tossing their money into these worshipped games. Kevin Dunn is terrific as a disabled firebrand of a gambler, joined by his two scrappy pals (Ritchie Koster and Jason Gedrick) as they try out their own brand of luck. Jill Hennessy is a determined horse trainer who clashes with a belligerent owner (Yul Vasquez), and there’s two ominous crime kingpins played by Michael Gambon and Ted Levine who hover in the shadows as well. Further still is a heartbreaking turn from Richard ‘Bing Bong’ Kind as a stressed out jockey manager, Nick Nolte as a crusty, broken-down horse trainer, Joan Allen, Alan Rosenberg, Spencer Garrett, Don Harvey, Ian Hart, W. Earl Brown, Shaun Toub, Bruce Davison, Frank Collison, Mercedes Rhuel, Tony Curran and a cameo from Jurgen Pröchnow as the stern owner of the whole track. How’s that for a cast. I must say that the dense, peculiar dialogue from Milch takes some time getting used to, but once you tune in to it’s jive, it’s pure poetry being rattled off by every character, and a gorgeously structured, meticulously layered script at that. The actors are all on a plane of pure excellence as well, many of them turning in career best efforts and bringing their roles vividly to life. The cinematography from various artists is pure spun gold too, every sparkling irrigation sprinkler, glistening horse coat, careful closeup and crop of dirt kicked up by hooves captured succinctly and smoothly. This seriously is as near to a perfect season of television as one can get, and it kills me that it got cut down before it had a chance to really get going, because just think of the places it could have gone. At least we still have this first glorious season to admire, and I recommend every minute of it. 

-Nate Hill

A chat with Tammy Lauren- An interview by Nate Hill

Excited to bring you my first interview in some time, with the lovely Tammy Lauren!

Tammy has made vivid impressions in numerous films including Wes Craven’s Wishmaster, Costa Gavras’s Mad City, I Saw What You Did, Chains Of Gold, Tiger Warsaw and more. She has also appeared in quite a few television shows including Little House On The Prairie, Criminal Minds, ER, Two & A Half Men, Home Improvement, Crossing Jordan, MacGyver and more. She’s a great talent and was a pleasure to speak with, enjoy!
Nate: What led you to acting? Was it something you always knew you wanted to do or did you stumble into it unexpectedly?
Tammy: My parents put me in the business when I was 8 years old. My parents put me in a children’s acting class, which then led to me auditioning for a play in San Diego (The Music Man) and the director of the play told my parents I should try and do TV and film. So, I’d say I stumbled into it.
Nate: Wishmaster: incredible, iconic horror film. How was your experience working on it, with all those unbelievable special effects, and starring alongside Andrew Divoff?
Tammy: It was exhausting. All that running and crying and freaking out…I loved Andy and Bob, the director and thought having all the horror icons involved was super cool. I just saw Bob and Andy at a horror convention and they taped the three of us watching the film and commenting for the Blu Ray, which brought back a ton of memories. Andy eating jelly beans to get his voice the way it was as the Djinn, Bob FREAKING out about the special effects and Red Room (the part that was supposed to be inside the Djinn’s mind), me FREAKING out that my performance was probably JUST AWFUL. 
Nate: Costa Gravras’s Mad City: How was your experience working on this one?
Tammy: Incredible. I first met John Travolta when I was a kid and he was at Paramount filming Urban Cowboy, I did a film years later that John produced and starred in, Chains of Gold and so at that point, I’d known John for a few decades. I was enamored of Dustin and of course, Costas. And this was the film set I got engaged on! My husband proposed to me in my dressing room and John and Dustin had some cake and stuff brought on stage to throw us an impromptu engagement party. 
Nate: Little House On The Prairie: how did you get involved with that, and how was it working on such a legendary show?
Tammy: I auditioned for it. At the time, it was very popular so I was excited. My favorite memory from that is working with Robert Loggia, playing his daughter. He’s an incredibly talented actor. His character was supposed to terrify me, which he did but he was also SO kind to me.

Nate: A few roles over your career that have been your favorite so far?
Tammy: Homefront was a favorite role of mine. When I was young, it was Mork and Mindy because of Robin. I also really liked doing Criminal Minds because my character had rabies and honestly, how many times do you get to do THAT? 🙂

Nate: Who inspired you (actors/filmmakers) growing up and in your work as well?
Tammy: Actors – Robin Williams, Meryl Streep, Jack Nickelson, Carol Burnett. Filmmakers – Francis Ford Coppola, James Brooks

Nate: The tv movie I Saw What You Did: My favourite role of yours alongside Wishmaster. Lisa was quite the character. How was that experience for you?
Tammy: Awesome. Because Carradine brothers. And Shawnee. That was actually the second movie for television we had done together and we both played similar roles in both. I liked that one too.
Nate: Do you have any upcoming projects, film related or otherwise, that you are excited for and would like to mention? 
Tammy: I’ve been in tech for a while now, I don’t act a lot anymore. It’s more a thing of someone I know is doing something and for some reason, they call me. I am not as active when it comes to pursuing work. But I do stuff occasionally.
Nate: Thank you so much for sharing, Tammy, and for your time, it’s been an honour!
Tammy: Hope this helps Nate. Hope you and yours have a very happy holidays!

Barry Levinson’s Sleepers: A Review by Nate Hill


Barry Levinson’s Sleepers is a deliberately paced, downbeat look at revenge, and is one of the most brilliant yet seemingly overlooked dramas of the 90’s. Part of it could have been marketing; The cover suggests blistering violence, confrontation and courtroom intrigue. While there are such moments within the narrative, they live to serve the story, which Levinson and his dream cast are doggedly intent on telling. It’s a sombre affair to be sure, slow and methodical as well, but never to be confused with boring. It’s just such a great story, one that unfolds exactly as it needs to. It starts in the 1950’s, where four young rapscallions run wild on the streets of Manhatten. It kicks the story off with a sort of urban Stand By Me vibe, and if you thought that film went to some heavy placed, stick around through Sleepers. When an innocent prank ends in tragedy, the four are sent to an austere children’s correctional facility, where they run afoul of some sadistic and abusive guards, led by Kevin Bacon, who is scummier than scum itself. They endure months of ritual abuse at the hands of these sickos, until their eventual release. Life goes on, as it must, the four boys grow up and follow very different paths from one another. Michael (Brad Pitt) becomes an esteemed lawyer. Shakes (Jason Patric) lives a quiet life, while Tommy (Billy Crudup, wonderfully cast against type) and John (Ron Eldard) take a darker road to drugs and crime. Eventually their past rears it’s head, and they are presented with an opportunity for much delayed revenge. It doesn’t all play out the way you may think though, and half the fun of this one is being surprised by geniunly lifelike plot turns and characters who behave as real humans would. Pitt is the highlight in a performance of quiet torment. Dustin Hoffman is fun as a washed up lawyer who gets involved, Minnie Driver shows up as a tough NYC gal who gets involved with Patric, Robert De Niro has a nice bit as a kindly priest who counsels the boys even until adulthood, and there’s further supporting work from Jonathan Tucker, Bruno Kirby, Frank Medrano, Brad Renfro, Terry Kinney and more. Levinson usually takes on bright, chipper comedies and razor sharp political satire. With Sleepers he deviates into tragic dramatic material, and shows his versitility excellently. This one gets grim, no doubt about it. However, it’s a story not only worth the telling, but worth the watching for us.



The 1970s was a fertile time for challenging, politically charged movies. Thanks to Easy Rider (1969) a lot of riskier material was getting made by the major Hollywood studios and, in some cases, they were commenting on the current political climate and being socially conscious. One of the best examples from this decade is All the President’s Men (1976) – the Citizen Kane (1941) of investigative journalism films. It’s the benchmark by which all other films of its genre are compared to, from The China Syndrome (1979) to State of Play (2009). Its influence can be felt in the films of Steven Soderbergh (Traffic) and David Fincher (Zodiac).

All the President’s Men
was immediate and topical, dramatizing Washington Post reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward’s investigation of the Watergate Hotel burglary and the resulting scandal that would rock the White House and forever taint President Richard Nixon’s tenure there, effectively sending him home packing before his term was up. Alan J. Pakula’s film struck a chord with audiences of the day (and continues to do so) and is credited with inspiring future generations of journalists. Of course, it didn’t hurt that the film starred Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford, two of the biggest movie stars in Hollywood at that time. Fortunately, they left their egos at the door to deliver thoughtful and intense performances. These are complemented by Pakula’s no frills direction and Gordon Willis’ moody, atmospheric cinematography.

The film begins, rather fittingly, with the actual break-in. We see the burglars at work in the gloom of the hotel, often from a distance which, somehow makes it actually creepier than it should. Pakula juxtaposes this with the next scene, which takes place in the brightly-lit offices of the Washington Post. Bob Woodward (Redford) gets the tip about the burglars and goes to see the charges brought up against them in front of a judge. It is here that he meets the first of many people that will try to stonewall him. Woodward starts talking to a man named Markham (Nicolas Coster) sitting in front of him. He tells Woodward that he’s not there as the attorney of record but reveals who that is and leaves. Woodward follows Markham outside into the hallway and continues to question him. Markham tries to confuse and evade Woodward through dialogue and while not actually saying much of anything he does pique the reporter’s curiosity.

Back at the Washington Post offices, Woodward meets with his editor Harry Rosenfeld (Jack Warden) and fellow reporter Carl Bernstein (Hoffman) who has been calling around getting information of his own. However, neither of them have much and Rosenfeld calls them on it: “I’m not interested in what you think is obvious. I’m interested in what you know.” One of the things that is so great about All the President’s Men is that they show the legwork these guys do in order to get the facts and the details to flesh out their articles. For example, there’s the scene where Woodward calls around trying to find out who Howard Hunt is and his relation to the White House. Pakula has Redford in the foreground but utilizes deep focus photography so that we can make out the hustle and bustle in the middle and background of the scene, which is a nice touch. It makes the scene more than just about dialogue and about what’s being said as Pakula keeps things visually interesting.

The way Woodward and Bernstein team-up is also well done. Woodward hands in a copy of his article to be proofread only for Bernstein to immediately take it and give it a polish. Woodward is upset at Bernstein for doing it without his permission, gives him his notes and says, “If you’re going to hype it, hype it with the facts. I don’t mind what you did. I mind the way you did it.” In an amusing bit, right after he says this, Rosenfeld walks by and tells them that they’re working together on the Watergate story. Early on, Woodward and Bernstein know that they are onto something and the more people evade them or deny any kind of knowledge of what went down at the Watergate, the more they realize that they’re onto something big. I also like that once they team-up, Pakula doesn’t try to make them too buddy-buddy. They work closely together but it is purely professional. They don’t hang out together or go to nightclubs. They are completely consumed by their investigation and getting to the truth.

Woodward and Bernstein show their story to the newspaper’s executive editor Ben Bradlee (Jason Robards) and the way he picks apart their article is devastating, especially if you’ve ever worked at a newspaper or a magazine. But, deep down, they know he’s right – they don’t have the story or the hard facts to back it up. Woodward and Bernstein approach every contact they know that might have even the most remote connection to their investigation. But they are persistent and keep plugging away at the story.

For a film that is ostensibly about two guys talking on the phone and interviewing people, All the President’s Men is always interesting to watch because of Pakula’s no-nonsense direction coupled with Gordon Willis’ textured cinematography. We get one engaging visual after another, like the scene where Woodward and Bernstein pour over index cards at the Library of Congress and the camera starts off with a tight overhead shot of them and then gradually pulls back to reveal the circular design of the building while also showing how insignificant these two men are in comparison to the task they are undertaking. In addition, Woodward’s meetings with his enigmatic informant known only as Deep Throat (Hal Holbrook) in a deserted parking garage at night illustrates why Willis was often referred to as the “Prince of Darkness.” We first see Deep Throat in the distance, enshrouded in darkness. He briefly lights a cigarette that does little to illuminate his identity. Even when shot in close-up, he’s still mostly in shadow except for a very film noirish strip of dim light across his face so that we can at least see his eyes. This emphasizes the ominous nature of this clandestine meeting. Never has a parking garage looked so menacing.

Another visually interesting phone scene has Woodward doing some more legwork at his desk. As he’s talking, off to the left in the background, a group of people are watching something on television. As the scene continues, the camera ever-so gradually moves in on Woodward until a close-up of his face dominates the screen. Pakula flips this in another scene where we get a close-up shot of a T.V. covering Nixon getting voted into the White House for four more years while in the background Woodward works away on the story. The juxtaposition of visuals is particularly striking as the T.V. absolutely dwarfs Woodward symbolizing just how marginalized he is in comparison to Nixon. He has regained the most powerful position in the free world while Woodward is still trying to get some decent facts. Willis’ lighting goes beyond adventurous as he continually pushes the boundaries of available light. For example, there’s a scene where Woodward and Bernstein have a conversation while driving in a car at night and it looks like the scene was done with only naturally available light. There are significant portions of the scene where we can barely or not see Woodward and Bernstein. You would never see that in a mainstream studio film today as it goes against the conventional wisdom of making sure the audience can always see the heroes clearly.

It goes without saying that All the President’s Men features an impressive cast. Redford and Hoffman do a good job showing the incredible pressure that Woodward and Bernstein are under. Not only are they trying to find people to go on the record but are also trying to prove to their editors that they are doing a good job and deserve to be on this story. In addition, they also have to make sure that a rival newspaper like The New York Times doesn’t scoop them first. Redford and Hoffman are not afraid to show the friction that sometimes surfaces between Woodward and Bernstein, especially when they hit dead ends in their investigation. Their frustrations come out as they try to get someone to go on record and give them some crucial information that they can use.

Supporting Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford are the likes of Jack Warden, Jason Robards, Martin Balsam, and Hal Holbrook who bring their real life counterparts to the big screen in such compelling fashion. Robards brings just the right amount of world-weary gravitas necessary to play someone like Ben Bradlee. He plays the editor as the gruff father-figure that gives Woodward and Bernstein tough love and in doing so pushes them to work harder and dig deeper on the Watergate story. There’s a nice scene where Bradlee sits down with the two reporters and recounts a story about how he covered J. Edgar Hoover being announced as head of the FBI. The story and how Robards tells it humanizes Bradlee and makes him relatable to Woodward and Bernstein.

Hal Holbrook is coolly enigmatic as the shadowy Deep Throat, giving Woodward cryptic clues and vague encouragement. His brief but memorable appearance would go on to inspire like-minded characters in Oliver Stone’s JFK (1991) and the popular T.V. series The X-Files. And, if you look close enough, a young and very good-looking Lindsay Crouse plays a Washington Post office worker that helps out Woodward and Bernstein. Also, look for Stephen Collins, Ned Beatty and Jane Alexander in small but memorable roles.

From the age of 13, Robert Redford disliked Richard Nixon after meeting the man at a tennis tournament when he was only a senator. These feelings persisted when Nixon became vice-president and during his first term as president. While promoting The Candidate in July 1972, Redford became aware of Woodward and Bernstein’s articles in the Washington Post documenting the break-in at the Watergate Hotel. Four Cuban-Americans and CIA employee James McCord broke in and burglarized the Democratic Party’s headquarters. It was later revealed that they were funded by the Republican Party. Redford asked various reporters on his promotional tour why they weren’t covering the Watergate break-in and he was met with cynicism and condescension.

After his promo duties ended, Redford returned home and continued to follow Woodward and Bernstein’s progress in the Washington Post. In October 1972, Redford read a profile about the two reporters and began thinking about making a film about them. His original notion was to make a low-budget, black and white film with two unknown actors and he would produce it. Redford tried to contact Woodward and Bernstein but they did not return his calls. He tried again six weeks later while making The Way We Were (1973) but was rebuffed by them and decided to shelve the project.

In April 1973, a link between the burglars and the Committee to Re-elect the President (CREEP) was uncovered and all of Woodward and Bernstein’s hard work had finally paid off. Redford contacted Woodward again and was able to convince him to meet the next day in Washington, D.C. Redford pitched his idea and passion for the project and Woodward agreed to meet him, along with Bernstein, at the actor’s apartment in New York City. Redford told his friend, and screenwriter William Goldman about the meeting and he asked the actor if he could tag along. Redford agreed and in February 1974, they met with Woodward and Bernstein. They told Redford and Goldman that they were about to expose, and thereby cause the resignations of, chief of staff H.R. Haldeman, assistant for domestic affairs to the president, John Ehrlichman, and Nixon’s lawyer, John Dean.

Redford asked Woodward and Bernstein for the film rights to their investigation of the Watergate Hotel burglary but they were hesitant to do so and told him that they were working on a book. He told them that the film would focus on the early stages of their investigation. He said, “the part I’m interested in is not the aftermath so much as what happened when no one was looking. Because that’s what no one knows about.” Redford also wanted to tell the story from Woodward and Bernstein’s point-of-view. They agreed to give him the film rights but with the stipulation that work on it could not begin until they completed the book in eight or nine month’s time. During this time, Nixon resigned and “an amazing story unfolded while I was waiting to do this movie,” Redford said.

The book’s publisher, Simon & Schuster, demanded $450,000 for the film rights which was a very high price at the time. Redford’s dream of a low-budget film with unknowns was no longer possible and so he had Warner Brothers raise $4 million while his production company, Wildwood Productions, contributed another $4 million. As a result, the studio insisted that All the President’s Men would be a commercial film and that Redford would have to agree to be in it. He still wanted Woodward and Bernstein to be played by unknown actors but the studio refused and the actor would have to play Woodward. So that Bernstein would not be overshadowed as a result, an actor of equal star power would have to be cast opposite Redford and Dustin Hoffman was hired for the role.

William Goldman wrote a draft of the screenplay that Redford was not thrilled about: “Goldman writes for cleverness and was still leaning all over Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. He was borrowing heavily from the charm of that piece and it didn’t work. It was written very quickly, and it went for comedy. It trivialized not only the event but journalism.” The actor wanted Elia Kazan to direct the film but the veteran filmmaker did not like it either and turned down Redford’s offer. Next, he approached William Friedkin because Redford felt that the film needed “a visceral kind of emotional energy, and Friedkin had that.” The director actually liked Goldman’s script but felt that he was the wrong person for the job. Bernstein also joined the ever-increasing list of people who did not like what Goldman had written and with then-girlfriend Nora Ephron, wrote his own draft. Not surprisingly, their version had Bernstein as a dashing, heroic figure while Woodward was a passive follower. Redford was unaware that Bernstein was doing this and when he read their draft he realized that too much emphasis had been placed on Bernstein and rejected it.

Impressed with his work on Klute (1971), Redford asked Alan J. Pakula if he would like to direct All the President’s Men. Initially, the actor was worried that Pakula was too cerebral a filmmaker and lacked the visceral edge that he wanted for the film but when he met with him, Redford “felt so comfortable about our ability to communicate that I just decided to go for it.” Pakula read Goldman’s script and, big surprise, did not like it (these also included executives at the Washington Post). In order to prepare for the film, Pakula spent more than a month hanging out at the Post offices observing the daily routines of the editors and reporters. In addition, he hung out with Bradlee for three days, joining him on phone conversations and news conferences. Afterwards, he insisted that Goldman’s script be rewritten and the lighthearted tone changed. Redford spoke to Goldman and told him that he had to work on the script more and spend time in Washington, D.C. and, in particular, at the Post. However, the actor found out that Goldman was also writing Marathon Man (1976) and realized that the screenwriter would not be devoting the time needed for the All the President’s Men’s script. He confronted Goldman over the issue and the two men had a falling out over the script. In his defense, Goldman claimed that Pakula was “unable to make up his mind” when it came to discussing scenes in the script and as a result he was unable to write productively.

Pakula and Redford checked into the Madison Hotel in D.C. and spent a month rewriting the script themselves. During this process, Woodward and Bernstein turned over all their notes to Redford and Pakula who used them as the basis for their treatment. Redford said, “we were literally able to take these notes and construct a kind of through-line of their investigation.” Ultimately, they used the structure Goldman had created for the script and discarded most of the rest.

Originally, Pakula and Redford had hoped to shoot All the President’s Men in the offices of the Washington Post and use actual employees as characters in the film but the newspaper’s publisher denied them access and was afraid that it would destroy the periodical’s reputation. A replica of the Post’s newsroom was built on two large soundstages at the Warner Bros. lot in Burbank, California at a cost of $450,000. This put a strain on the budget forcing three planned scenes to be cut. However, the Post offices were recreated in the most exact detail. Around 200 desks were ordered from the company that the Post also used. They were then painted in exactly the same color as the real desks. The attention to detail is incredible as the offices of the newspaper look, sound and feel like an authentic newsroom.

Principal photography began on May 12, 1975. Early on, Redford had difficulty portraying Woodward because he found him to be a “boring guy. He’s not the most exciting guy in the world to play, and I can’t get a grip on the guy because he’s so careful and hidden.” Pakula told Redford, “you’ve got to concentrate and you’ve got to think, and the audience has got to be able to see you think and they’ve got to be able to feel your concentration.” The director noticed that for awhile Redford was uncomfortable in the role and was frustrated trying to get a handle on the character. Pakula used this to his advantage early on in filming to convey a more reserved and controlled Woodward. Once Redford got comfortable in the role, Pakula filmed his scenes in the newsroom and saw that the actor’s concentration had improved.

Pakula does the seemingly impossibly by making what is essentially a film about people talking and make it incredibly compelling. This is because of the material and the actors that bring it to life. With the help of Willis’ camerawork, Pakula keeps things visually interesting. This is not an easy thing to pull off and may explain why there aren’t many good journalism films like this one. And that’s because you run the danger of getting bogged down by excessive expositional dialogue that tells us too much instead of showing us. Or, the filmmakers try and spice things up with clichéd genre conventions like a car chase or a shoot-out. Pakula’s film also doesn’t rely on an overtly dramatic score that tells us what to feel. David Shire’s score is refreshingly minimalist and used sparingly by the director. What makes the film work so well is that it shows all the hard, tedious legwork that Woodward and Bernstein had to do in order to break the case: countless phone calls and knocking on doors trying to get anybody remotely linked to the burglary or those arrested to talk. All the President’s Men was a watershed film that would go on to inspire other hard-hitting, investigative journalism movies like The Insider (1999) and Shattered Glass (2003).