Oscar voters’ double standard gave Argo a free pass: Meanwhile, Zero Dark Thirty and Lincoln were criticized for perceived inaccuracies.
I miss the days when moviegoers did go to the cinema expecting to find truth, or something very close to it, and not just from documentary films. From the late 1960s to the end of the 1970s, during the celebrated “New Hollywood” era, there was a cachet to depicting reality, even if it didn’t lead to a Best Picture win.
I’m thinking in particular about All the President’s Men, by Alan J. Pakula, a superlative movie and director acknowledged by Affleck as major influences on Argo. Based on the non-fiction book of the same name by the Washington Post’s Watergate sleuths Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, the 1976 film makes journalistic accuracy the thrust of its story.
The Oscar-winning script by William Goldman accrues detail, fact by fact, relying on acknowledged truth rather than speculation. For his part, Pakula eschews the Hollywood tropes that Affleck so eagerly embraces in Argo. There are no car chases, airport showdowns or guns firing in All the President’s Men, unlike Argo’s imaginary scenario, and the CIA people are anything but heroic. Instead, Pakula and cinematographer Gordon Willis make imaginative use of light, space and structure to create an intense feeling of paranoia, of corrupt government vs. honest citizens.
All the President’s Men doesn’t begin with “based on a true story,” the cop-out used by Argo and many of today’s truth-challenged dramas. That’s because Pakula’s film isn’t “just a movie”; it’s an honest effort to depict events that actually happened.
Much of the film consists of Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman, as reporters Woodward and Bernstein, scribbling notes, dialing rotary phones and expending shoe leather as they doggedly chase down leads about chicanery in the administration of then-U.S. president Richard Nixon, a story that ultimately led to his 1974 resignation.
Pakula and Goldman may have taken a few artistic liberties, such as the narrative compression standard to all movies. But they didn’t invent major dramatic elements for a factual story that was already compelling enough.
Maybe this is why All the President’s Men didn’t win the 1976 Best Picture prize, which instead went to Rocky, the inspirational and mostly fictional boxing drama written by and starring Sylvester Stallone.