Tag Archives: Robert Redford

“We’ve got some unique time constraints.” : Remembering Déjà Vu with Bill Marsilii by Kent Hill

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Initially I felt the same way about Déjà Vu as I did Gilliam’s 12 Monkeys. Both of the inaugural screenings I attended were sullied by external forces which greatly influenced my mood during the viewings and thus, my opinion of the films.

But time, it was once said, is the ultimate critic. Under different circumstances I watched both films again, and, this time around, my feelings toward both movies were drastically adjusted.

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In several books on the art of screenwriting it is often put about that, if you cannot sum up the film you are writing in a single sentence, then you may want to rethink the plot. There is a great moment on the commentary track of this film in which the late, great Tony Scott admits that even he struggled to distill Déjà Vu into the logline form.

It’s a science-fiction/action/thriller/time-travel/romance in which the hero, Denzel Washington, meets the girl he will eventually fall in love with on the slab – dead as disco. Unbeknownst to him, he will eventually join a team that will, along with the help of a device that can see into the past, aid him in bringing her killer to justice. And it was from this humble yet intriguing premise that my guest, Bill Marsilii and his co-writer Terry Rossio constructed this rich, multi-layered tale which deserves more applause than some would proffer for its inventiveness and compelling real-world take on the age old time machine story.

 

But what I uncovered as I spoke to Bill was far more than a series of behind the scenes anecdotes and your typical boy meets idea, boy turns idea into a screenplay, screenplay sells for big dollars, boy lives happily and successfully ever after in Hollywood kind of scenario.

And yes, while it is true that Déjà Vu is the highest earning spec script thus far, beating out other entries like Basic Instinct, Panic Room and The Last Boy Scout, the story of how Bill came to, not only the concept, but how the writing and selling of the script changed his life is just as compelling as anything Jerry Bruckheimer and Co. managed to get onto the screen.

 

This interview, at least for me, proved also to be somewhat of a masterclass in, not only screenwriting, but the ever painful and soul-crushing journey the writer must endure to actually sell the script. It’s about the luck, timing, persistence and internal fortitude that you must have sufficient quantities to survive the gauntlet that exists between the page and the screen.

Bill’s heart-warming, inspirational adventure to make it in the realm where dreams are brought to life with that strange blending of art, science and commerce – that ultimately no one can tell you how, when a film is successful, it all comes together in the perfect proportions to ensure success is on the menu – is a conversation that could have gone on and on.

I hope you’ll will enjoy some extended insights into Déjà Vu, but more than that, I hope you, if you are one of those dreamers still out there trying to write your own ticket to cinematic glory, that Bill’s wisdom you’ll take onboard and continue pounding away on those keys until fortune smiles and your efforts will be coming soon, to a theater near us…

Ladies and Gentlemen . . . Bill Marsilii . . .

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“I’m not scared at all. I just feel kind of … feel kind of invincible.” : An Interview with W.D. Richter by Kent Hill

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To talk about W.D. (Rick) Richter, is to talk about one of my all-time favorite films, Big Trouble in Little China. It is, to put it simply, one of those films that comes along (not so much anymore) once in a generation. As we know in this age of remakes, reboots and re-imaginations, there is a very good chance that this film, because of its staying power and built-in fan base, will more than likely resurface with Dwayne Johnson playing Jack Burton. Just like Hansel in Zoolander he is, as far as the Studios are concerned, so hot right now!

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And you can be your bottom dollar that it will try like hell to recapture the magic of what was – and more than likely – crash ‘n’ burn in its attempt to do so. I might be wrong. Because, BTILC, was and is what is often referred to as a “happy accident”. What began as a seemingly awkward combination of a western with a plot that involved Chinese black magic became, thanks to my guest, a glorious blending of genres that there is really no recipe for.

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I rarely get nervous doing interviews, but I was glad to be sitting down for this one. When the person on the other end of the line had a hand in creating a couple of the seminal film of one’s existence . . . it is tough to play it cool, plus for the first time in a long time, I found the need to have my questions written, rather than merely see what the conversation would provoke. Primarily because I knew I was only going to have a limited time, and secondly because during our email exchanges prior to the chat, I found Rick to be extremely matter-of-fact and, wishing not to have the interview published in audio form, he merely wanted to be concise and not ramble on as, he says, has happened in the past.

So I sat and pondered questions. Having read other interviews with him in the past, before he’d stepped away from the business, the focus was on the films he had released at the time and didn’t really get below the surface. Off the record, we spoke about a few of the things that were beneath the polished exterior of the press kits, but that was not all that interested me. There have been many books and articles on his films, as well as many having excellent special features and commentary tracks which mine their depths – so I wasn’t going to waste time there.

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In the end I waited till the last minute and scribbled down the first questions that popped into my head. Some of course are elementary, but one or two I’ve had on my mind for a while.

Well, it took a long time, but sometimes, good things do. It was well worth the wait and the frustrating silences in between messages from Rick’s friend who very graciously made the introductions, and I, as a fan first, was humbled, honored and thrilled at the prospect of speaking to yet another film-making idol of mine.

While Rick, early in our email exchanges said, “I prefer to let he films, for better or worse, speak for themselves.” I am and will be forever grateful he took the time to talk a little about his work. In the end I wasn’t nervous or scared at all . . . I felt kind of invincible.

 

KH: Did you always want to work in movies and if so what were the films which influenced you?

WDR: First I wanted a paper route.  Then I wanted to run a circus.  Then I thought about pursuing a career as an English teacher.  Then I thought, “Why not aspire to become an actual tenured English professor?”  But, by the time I got to college, graduate film programs were springing up here and there.  Having loved movies since childhood, but never imagining there was a route available into the business, I suddenly saw a way to pursue a career in film in a structured, sensible way.

I went to a lot of movies of all kinds as a kid, but mostly B horror films from the mid-fifties through the mid-sixties.  In 1964, I saw DR. STRANGELOVE and in 1965 THE LOVED ONE.  They suggested a new direction and deeply influenced me.

KH: How did you break in to the business?

WDR: I wrote screenplays at USC, and one of them secured me an agent.  I then worked as a reader for Warners and wrote on the side and continued to do so when Warners and Irvin Kershner let me work as his assistant while he was prepping DIRTY HARRY for Sinatra.  That project fell apart, but a spec script I’d written, SLITHER, got to the director Howard Zeiff, and he set it up, odd as it was, and we shot it.  Presto!  I was a produced screenwriter.

KH: Your early career was full of greats like Dracula, Body Snatchers and your Oscar nod for Brubaker. How much does momentum play a factor in one’s career (films coming out and performing well) as well as recognition for one’s talent?

WDR: Actually, none of those films did perform well, but they were respected, and, as a result, I was respected as a young writer with perceived potential.  You must remember that during the seventies and eighties eccentric characters in unusual, small stories were nothing Hollywood ran screaming from.  That came later.

KH: You are a part of two of my favourite films of all time with Banzai and BTILC. How do you feel as an artist to be remembered for singular works rather than your entire body of creativity?

WDR: I’ve never given much thought to being “remembered”.  After all, sooner or later, this whole planet is going to be forgotten.

KH: If people want the skinny on Banzai, you have already provided an excellent commentary. What I would ask is, did you ever see Kevin Smith’s Q & A whose guests were Weller and Lithgow, and how did you feel about possible versions of the continuing story of Banzai?

WDR: I thought Kevin did a spectacular job that evening, and it was nice to learn how much the movie shaped him.  As long as Mac Rauch is involved, I feel quite confident that a “new” BUCKAROO could be as startling as the original.

KH: BTILC was ahead of its time, in my opinion. What I’ve always wanted to know is, what the “western version” was like prior to your work on the script, and how much of the finished film remains your work?

WDR: The “western version” just didn’t work for anybody, sad to say.  It all seemed too distant…the Old West and the Asian occult, etc.  So I proposed moving it to a modern, familiar setting and swapping the hero’s horse for a big rig.  The pitch went over well, and, with a writers’ strike looming, I dug into the challenge of creating a contemporary script in about seven weeks, choosing to do that with a somewhat dim but hopefully lovable hero at the center.  The finished film stayed absolutely true to my screenplay, apart from the inevitable ad libs here and there.  Jack Burton’s John-Wayne cadences, though, are definitely nothing I wrote or endorsed.  John and Kurt settled on that themselves.

You asked me prior to this conversation: “Did you write the line or was it improvised: I feel pretty good. I’m not, uh, I’m not scared at all. I just feel kind of… feel kind of invincible?”

Turns out I did write it.  I wrote the whole script furiously in longhand in several spiral notebooks, and a typist transcribed them into script format.

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KH: There was a significant gap between Home for the Holidays and Stealth. I have interviewed many writers who talk of these periods. They say, it’s not that I wasn’t writing, it’s just my scripts weren’t getting made. Was that true of your career at the time?

WDR: Definitely.  I had movies actually green-lighted then cancelled when directors went over budget in pre-production.

KH: I understand Stealth was a troubled production.

WDR: STEALTH was just a bizarre and massively unpleasant experience.  Directors and location scouts shouldn’t rewrite writers, if you want my opinion.  Kind of like Presidents shouldn’t tweet.

KH: Did your involvement end after the writing?

WDR: The “writing” never really stopped.  I was removed from the picture several times when my revisions failed to please the director.  But I was repeatedly brought back by the studio to pull the script back from the brink after the director (who shall remain nameless) had worked it over again in his spare time.  It’s the only film I’ve had made that, with great care, I kept my distance from during production and through release.

KH: I also love Needful Things. What was it like to adapt King?

WDR: Crazy.  The book is 690-pages of single-spaced prose.  My script was 124 pages, and you know how much “air” there is on a script page.  I figured that if one were to retype the novel in a crude screenplay format, it might easily hit 1000 pages.  So I lost roughly 876 pages while trying to keep King’s story and mood intact.  I have no sense of how that worked out because I’ve never reread the book, but I always imagined a looser, grittier, less-arch movie.

KH: Any advice you would give to a struggling screenwriter – not unlike myself?

WDR: Write.  Write.  Write.  But always try to imagine the movie itself playing to paying strangers.  Why would they — or you! — want to watch it?

KH: Sir it has been a profound honor to converse with you. I cherish the moment and humbly thank you.

WDR: Thank you, Kent. Take care.

Robert Redford’s The Company You Keep: A Review by Nate Hill

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Robert Redford’s The Company You Keep is a powerful, smart, grounded drama revolving around the seriousness of one’s actions, the consequences they may make even decades down the road, and the lengths that some people will go to put things right. Redford has shown only improvement throughout his career, and has been really awesome as of late (All Is Lost was a favourite for me) and he directs here with as much confidence and empathy as he puts into his performance. He plays Nick Sloan, a former underground activist who was involved in a tragic accident as a result of his protesting, and branded a domestic terrorist. He went into hiding for nearly 30 years, until an intrepid journalist (Shia Lebeouf) uncovers traces of his tracks, and he’s forced to go on the run, leaving his young daughter with his brother (Chris Cooper). Lebeouf suspects his agenda is to do more than just hide, and indefinitely stay on the run. A federal agent (Terrence Howard) makes it his tunnel vision mission to find him. Sloan’s agenda only gradually becomes clear to us, as he navigates a tricky, treacherous web of former acquaintances, trying to locate his former lover and fellow activist (Julie Christie, phenomenal in a comeback of sorts). Old wounds are slashed open, the law closes in, and Nick wrestles with the notion that despite the good he tried to do in his idealistic youth, he is indirectly responsible for bloodshed. It’s enthralling to watch Redford play this man in his twilight years trying to put things right, waist deep in decades of acting experience, supported by an amazing script and a supporting cast that you couldn’t dream up . There’s memorable appearances from Stanley Tucci, Richard Jenkins, Brit Marling, Stephen Root, Susan Sarandon, Anna Kendrick, Brendan Gleeson, Sam Elliott, Susan Hogan and Nick Nolte, all in top form. For a thriller that takes itself seriously, takes its time building character and suspense, and sets itself in a realistic, believable tale that completely engrosses you, look no furthe

PTS PRESENTS CINEMATOGRAPHER’S CORNER with TRENT OPALOCH Vol 1

OPALOCH POWERCAST

 

OpalochPodcasting Them Softly is extremely excited to present a chat with the incredible cinematographer Trent Opaloch. Trent is one of the hottest, most in demand shooters currently working in Hollywood, having shot District 9, Elysium, and the absurdly underrated Chappie for director Neill Blomkamp, while also becoming a member of the Marvel cinematic universe, having lensed both Captain America: The Winter Soldier and this weekend’s Captain America: Civil War. The future looks to hold even more superhero action, as he’ll be reteaming with the Russo brothers for both chapters of The Avengers: Infinity Wars. He’s also a veteran of the commercial world, having collaborated with such directors as Jake Scott, Todd Field, Phil Joanou, and Frederik Bond on a variety of worldwide advertisements. He’s clearly got a very exciting future ahead, and we’re beyond thrilled to have him as a guest – we hope you enjoy this exciting discussion!

CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER – A REVIEW BY J.D. LAFRANCE

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When we last saw Steve Rogers a.k.a. Captain America (Chris Evans), he had just helped save New York City from an alien invasion and was still acclimatizing himself to modern life having been frozen in ice since World War II as chronicled in Captain America: The First Avenger (2011). The sequel, The Winter Soldier (2014), takes place two years after the events depicted in The Avengers (2012) and sees Cap working as an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., a top-secret spy organization that, among other things, deals with the fallout from the adventures of superheroes like Iron Man and Thor. However, as hinted at in The Avengers and the television show Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., there is something rotten at the core of the spy organization and Cap soon finds himself not only embroiled in a vast conspiracy, but also confronting someone from his past he thought had died in the war. The result is a fantastic fusion of the super hero movie with the conspiracy thriller.

Cap and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) are now a team and as the film begins they intercept a covert S.H.I.E.L.D. ship in the Indian Ocean that has been hijacked by Algerian terrorists led by French mercenary Batroc the Leaper (Georges St-Pierre). In a nice touch, the filmmakers manage to transform Batroc, who was a pretty ridiculous villain in the comic books, into a bit of a badass. Afterwards, S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) lets Cap in behind the scenes, showing him three Helicarriers armed with state-of-the-art jet fighters that are linked to spy satellites created to anticipate global threats in a program known as Project Insight.

Cap is not at all comfortable with Fury’s secret project and the notion of creating a climate of fear that potentially robs people of their basic freedoms. However, when Fury suspects something is wrong with Project Insight he voices concern to senior S.H.I.E.L.D. official Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford). Immediately afterwards, Fury is attacked on the streets of Washington, D.C. by S.H.I.E.L.D. operatives and an enigmatic figure known as the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan). Fury barely escapes and finds Cap before being gravely injured. It’s up to Cap and Black Widow, along with the help of Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie), a war veteran and post-traumatic stress disorder counselor that Cap befriends early on, to uncover the corruption rampant in S.H.I.E.L.D. and stop it.

Chris Evans does an excellent job of reprising his role of Captain America and providing layers to a character that is essentially a super strong boy scout who comes from a simpler time. He is now immersed in a convoluted conspiracy where he doesn’t know who to trust. As a result, he has to do a bit of soul-searching, which Evans handles well. He also has nice chemistry with Scarlett Johansson, especially when Cap and Black Widow go off the grid together and try to find the Winter Soldier. There’s a hint of sexual tension going on as two people with wildly different backgrounds and approaches to life are forced to look out for each other. Johansson finally gets some seriously significant screen-time than she did in Iron Man 2 (2010) and The Avengers and it’s nice to see her character fleshed out a bit more as well as giving her plenty of action sequences to kick ass in.

A film like this, which intentionally raises the stakes in comparison to the first one needs a credible threat that makes us feel like Cap and his allies are in real danger and the Winter Soldier does that. He rarely speaks, but looks cool and is extremely dangerous so that we anticipate the inevitable showdown between him and Cap. He isn’t some anonymous bad guy, but something of a tortured soul and the screenplay by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (who also wrote the first film) offers some tantalizing details of his backstory and how it ties in with Cap’s past.

Markus and McFeely have crafted a solid script that is well-executed by directors Anthony and Joe Russo. They establish just the right rhythm and tone with well-timed lulls between action sequences that are used wisely to move the plot along and offer little moments of character development that keep us invested in the characters and their story. For example, there is a nice scene where Cap goes to an exhibit dedicated to his World War II exploits at the Smithsonian, which succinctly recaps his origin story in a rather poignant way that reminds us of his internal conflict of being stuck in the past while living in the present. One way he deals with this is befriending Sam and they both bond over being war veterans – albeit from very different eras. In addition, the script features several well-timed one-liners and recurring jokes that add moment of much-welcomed levity to an otherwise serious film.

The action sequences are exciting and expertly choreographed with the exception of the opening boat siege, which takes place at night and involves way too much Paul Greengrass/Jason Bourne shaky, hand-held camerawork. Once the filmmakers get that out of their system and Cap takes on Batroc, the camera settles down and is a decent distance from the combatants so that we can see what’s going on. There is also an intense car chase involving an injured Fury in an increasingly bullet-ridden SUV that has the feel of the exciting car chase in William Friedkin’s To Love and Die in L.A. (1985) and a little later Cap takes out an elevator full of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents intent on neutralizing him that evokes an elevator scene in Brian De Palma’s Dressed to Kill (1980). The fights between Cap and the Winter Soldier are fast and frenetic, but never confusing as they convey the frighteningly deadly speed of the latter’s moves, so much so that I really felt like Cap was in some serious danger.

Drawing elements from writer Ed Brubaker and illustrator Steven Epting’s 2005 “Winter Soldier” storyline in the comic book, this film has a decidedly darker tone than The First Avenger as our hero is nearly killed on several occasions and his world is shaken to the very core as he uncovers all sorts of ugly secrets. In this respect, The Winter Soldier is reminiscent of paranoid conspiracy thrillers from the 1970s and this is acknowledged with the casting of Robert Redford who starred in two of the best films from that era – Three Days of the Condor (1975) and All the President’s Men (1976).

It is refreshing to see a sequel that isn’t merely content to rehash the first film. Where The First Avenger was essentially a mash-up of a super hero movie and war movie, The Winter Soldier is super hero movie and a political thriller with events that are a major game changer for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In the past, S.H.I.E.L.D. had been the connective tissue that linked several of the films together that led up to The Avengers. It should be interesting to see how the events depicted in this film set the stage for Avengers: The Age of Ultron (2015). That being said, The Winter Soldier has its own self-contained story that is engrossing with a lot at stake for our hero and this in turn gets you invested in what is happening to produce a rare super hero movie with heart.

ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN – A REVIEW BY J.D. LAFRANCE

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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).

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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).

SYDNEY POLLACK’S THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

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Lethal, cold, smart, and totally gripping, Sydney Pollack’s classic spy film Three Days of the Condor is a top-class genre entry, benefitting from its post-Watergate, paranoia induced atmosphere, with a charismatic star turn by Robert Redford as CIA codebreaker Joe Turner, an unassuming worker-bee who comes to the office one morning and finds all of his co-workers executed. Totally alarmed by the situation, Turner flees the scene, and reports the incident to his duplicitous bosses, who then set a menacing hitman, played by the legendary Max von Sydow in a silently ruthless bit of acting, to dispatch of him. Who, if anyone, can Turner trust, and will it be possible to escape the nefarious clutches of crooked government agents? Lorenzo Semple Jr. and David Rayfiel’s lean and graceful screenplay cut away any sense of narrative fat in favor of forward moving plotting with credible dialogue and exciting bursts of violent action. The supporting cast, including a gorgeous Faye Dunaway, Cliff Robertson, Addison Powell, and John Houseman, all provided excellent counterpoints to Redford’s leading-man heroics, which never end up going over the top, which keeps the film relatively grounded for the genre. Dave Grusin’s moody score provided an ominous tone right from the start, and as usual, Owen Roizman’s crisp and clean cinematography exerted a clarity and visceral force that kept everything in the moment and tension-filled, while Don Guidice’s expert editing made terrific use of jump-cutting, while also demonstrating a clear understanding of how long to keep any given scene going; this film feels needle-point precise. This is a film that has aged like a fine wine, and one that’s always worth a revisit.

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