By Craig Leask
In this fifth and final section in my series on Corruption in the Movies I am focusing on movies about reporters – reporters at a time when the news had integrity – not the biased one sided opinion circus that journalism has now become. Reporters were trained that the truth in their words was their job and they lived by this credo. These are a few of my favorite films where journalists held the immense responsibility of reporting the truth and investigative journalism meant more than just uncovering trysts of the rich and famous.
All The President’s Men (1976)
Without getting too political, in the realm of the present uncertainty of world events, I take great comfort in movies where the little guy has taken a stand in what he believes in and makes a difference. It is for this reason that I am attracted to movies such as The Post (2017), The China Syndrome (1979) and All the President’s Men.
All the President’s Men is based on the 1974 book of the same name by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein and was produced by Robert Redford. Remarkably, All the President’s Men was filmed with the full support of the executive editor of The Washington Post to ensure factual accuracy. Accuracy was so important to Redford that nothing was allowed into the script until it had been painstakingly verified and confirmed by numerous sources. Additionally, to get into character Redford and Dustin Hoffman spent months working with and observing the reporters at The Washington Post prior to the first frame being shot.
The movie focuses on the true story of the prelude to the 1972 elections, during which time Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein followed a lead pertaining to a minor break-in at the Democratic Party National headquarters. This lead ultimately led to the Oval Office and the impeachment of President Richard Nixon.
In telling the story, director Alan J. Pakula interlaced the story with actual newsreel footage from the day, seemingly telling the story in real time, utilizing the individuals in the newsreels inadvertently as supporting actors in the movie. This approach legitimized the story while also time stamping the work.
One character to note is Donald Segretti, played by Robert Walden. Segretti was a White House attorney and becomes the face of the Watergate Scandal for the audience – a face of corruption and a face of mistrust. The importance of this story to me is that I believe it depicts the point in time where the United States of America lost its political innocence. This was a very important story to be told and it was told very well.
The Post (2017)
Set in 1971, The Post, directed and produced by Steven Spielberg, depicts the true story of attempts by journalists at The Washington Post to publish the Pentagon Papers, which were classified documents exposing the futility of the U.S. government’s 20-year involvement in the Vietnam War. While U.S. Presidents had been telling its citizens that success was assured, the top-secret Pentagon Papers revealed that national policy was based on a litany of lies. The factual story starts with the leaking of the Papers by former military analyst Daniel Ellsberg to the New York Times and The Washington Post.
To stop the publication of the damaging papers, the White House described the papers as “the most highly classified documents of the war” threatening serious punishment should the newspapers attempt to go to print. The Post and Times are thus required to jointly appear before the Supreme Court to plead their First Amendment rights.
The Post is less about the Pentagon Papers and more about a time in the U.S. when investigative journalism was of utmost importance – sources needed to be double checked before going to print as a paper’s entire reputation was based on indisputable facts and integrity. The film reminds the viewer about the role of journalism as an almost fourth arm of government – ensuring transparency of decision making by Congress and the Senate. The Post demonstrates the absolute need to uncover the truth, even if this requires challenging the ultimate power to protect their right to ensure the public is aware of the behaviors and actions of their elected official.
Upon reading the screenplay, Spielberg decided to direct and release the film as soon as possible, realizing that this wasn’t a story that could wait several years, this was a story he felt was important to be told today, during the present political climate.
The film received positive reviews from critics and was chosen by the National Board of Review as the best film of 2017 and named as one of the top-10 films of the year by Time and the American Film Institute.
From as far back as Craig can remember he has been passionate about architecture and the atmosphere that can be created through a well-designed building. In movies, he fulfills this passion by gravitating to films where the production infuses the location into the plot as one of the characters. Be it the long dark shadows of mysteries and haunted house films, to classics of the 40’s and 50’s set in big old houses, grand Italian plazas, or remote villages. It’s the locations Craig is drawn to, so much so that, on occasion, he has even been accused of overlooking plot failures and weak directing, having been so engrossed in the set design and location. What he hopes to accomplish with his writing is to share this passion and encourage others to see for the first time – or revisit – movies where the architecture plays as pivotal a role as a character in the plot.