Unspooled: “49. All The President’s Men”

Paul Scheer’s humor and Amy Nicholson’s careful analysis add value for both neophytes and long-time fans of the 1976 classic.

As a cinephile, I’ve enjoyed listening to Unspooled, which features film critic Amy Nicholson comic actor Paul Scheer, who go through the American Film Institute’s list of the 100 best American films. Paul and Amy have a great rapport that makes it feel like you’re listening to close friends discuss films, and along the way I’ve caught up with some classics that had slipped past me, like Rocky and West Side Story.

Perhaps because I have a journalism degree, Alan J. Pakula’s All The President’s Men has always sat high on my list of favorite films. I’d place it among the top two or three American films of the 1970s. It’s unapologetically procedural, something of a real-life detective story that possesses both higher-stakes and a significantly more quotidian nature than traditional noir fare. Gordon Wills’ moody cinematography and David Shire’s conspiratorial score amplify a pervasive sense of paranoia that Watergate cast on the following decade.

Paul and Amy press hard on the procedural nature of the film; Paul in particular questions whether the film’s intense attention to detail always makes for good cinema. But later Amy zeroes in on the point that it’s the tiniest details, the smallest screw-ups, that bring Nixon and his accomplices down. She also praises Redford’s subtle acting, the way he reacts to groundbreaking revelations without underlining them. In a lot of ways, All The President’s Men is a film about a dogged but unpretentious attention to detail.

This week’s guest Liz Hannah wrote Steven Spielberg’s The Post (a film perhaps too eager to underline important details), which she wrote in part because she wanted to see another film like All The President’s Men and other ’70s political thrillers. Hannah provides a lot of real-life context about the Washington Post, editor Ben Bradlee and publisher Katie Graham from the time of the Pentagon Papers through Watergate.

It’s a good time for new listeners to jump into Unspooled as the podcast nears its midway point, which will include a retrospective episode looking back at the first fifty films. “All the President’s Men” represents the podcast well, with Paul’s humor and Amy’s careful analysis adding value for both neophytes and long-time fans of the film like myself.

Listen here.

New episodes of Unspooled appear on Thursdays.