Film / All the President's Men
Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein are about to ask you a few questions.

"Follow the money."

All the President's Men follows the discovery and subsequent news coverage of the Watergate scandal by Washington Post reporters Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) and Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) during the early 1970s. The film—which cracks the AFI "100 Thrills" list at #57—was adapted by William Goldman from the book of the same title, which chronicles the investigative reporting of Woodward and Bernstein from their initial reports on the Watergate break-in to the revelation of the Richard Nixon tapes in 1973.

For those unaware, the story is true.

This movie provides examples of:

  • Adaptational Attractiveness:
    • Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, who in real life were never as adorably attractive as Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman.
    • Though the trope does not hold true for Hugh Sloan, who was every bit as attractive in reality as the man who played him in the film (Stephen Collins).
  • Adaptation Distillation: The film essentially condenses the investigation to a streamlined narrative, and takes some liberties with narrative devices (for instance, the phrase "follow the money" was invented for the film by Goldman). One of the most notable distillations is that the script only covers the first seven months of the scandal, ending approximately half-way through the book.
  • Adaptation Dye-Job: In real life, Bob Woodward's hair was brown at the time, not blonde like Robert Redford.
  • Affably Evil: Segretti seems like a decent guy when Bernstein goes to interview him. But then you have to realize that he sabotaged Muskie's campaign and mentored the likes of Karl Rove...
  • Amoral Attorney: Segretti. He was college buddies with Chapin at law school.
    • Capped by the then–Attorney General John Mitchell.
    • Averted for the most part by everyone else in the legal profession, who are shown as competent and trying to figure out just what the hell happened with a third-rate burglary.
  • Autobiographical Role: Frank Wills, the security guard shown at the beginning of the film during the attempted break-in, was the actual security guard who notified authorities to the incident in real life.
  • Beware the Honest Ones: Hugh Sloan, who had resigned from the campaign right around the break-in, and pretty much the one decent character in the entire story (even the protagonists Woodward/Bernstein bend the rules in pursuit of their reporting). He'd love to tell the reporters more about what he knows - actually, he doesn't, the entire experience is making him miserable - but he's restricted by what he can say due to the ongoing grand jury investigation. Played with when Sloan tells the reporters about Haldeman's role, and the reporters write up that he’ll testify to that effect. When Sloan doesn't testify to that in the grand jury, it makes the newspaper look like liars and gives the Nixon people a reason to denounce the whole story. When confronted later, Sloan tells Bernstein he wanted to testify about Haldeman, but the special prosecutor never asked.
  • Cacophony Cover Up: Woodward comes to Bernstein's apartment, insists on turning classical music, loud, and communicates with Bernstein by typing notes on his typewriter after being warned that their apartments are bugged. The piece we hear is Vivaldi's Concerto in C for Two Trumpets.
  • Cassandra Truth: John Mitchell's wife, Martha, is mentioned offhand as going around town indicting Nixon for the whole Watergate fiasco. No one believes her. Of course, Martha also claimed her husband was innocent, despite the fact Mitchell had handled the slush fund personally and knew about the break-in and cover-up.
  • CIA Evil, FBI Good
  • Composite Character:
    • The Bookkeeper, played by Jane Alexander, was a composite of various staffers working in the CRP campaign. Mostly, she was Judy Hoback, who provided a wealth of useful information.
    • Subverted with Deep Throat: a number of critics and amateur sleuths were convinced Deep Throat was an invention of Woodward to make it harder to identify one informant in Nixon's inner circle. Also because Deep Throat seemed too freaky to be real. It was always one man (W. Mark Felt).
  • Da Editor: Ben Bradlee of the Washington Post.
  • Dated History: W. Mark Felt revealed in 2005 that he was Deep Throat.
  • Dirty Cop: John Mitchell, the Top Cop - Attorney General - of United States law enforcement.
    • Averted for the most part by the cops and law enforcement types at the grunt level.
    • The Watergate Burglars and their handlers were mostly CIA: technically dirty spies,note  not cops.
  • Dramatically Missing the Point: When Woodward and Bernstein ask Sloan if they would be wrong to write a story naming Haldeman as the fifth man to control the secret fund, Sloan replies "Let me put it this way. I would have no problems if you wrote a story like that." Woodward and Bernstein take this to mean that Sloan named Haldeman to the grand jury, and say so in the story. They get a couple more dubious confirmations of this, and the paper publishes the story. The next day, the shit hits the fan: the TV news has Sloan telling the press that he never named Haldeman to the grand jury, and the White House Press Secretary is accusing the Post of being biased. It turns out that the reason Sloan would have had no problem with them saying that Haldeman was the fifth man to control the fund was not that Haldeman wasn't that man, but that the grand jusry never asked him about Haldeman at all.
  • Exact Words: The White House denounces the Post's reporting as "hearsay", "innuendo", and "character assassination". What the White House doesn't do is accuse the Post of lying or being mistaken. Bradlee calls this a "non-denial denial".
  • Foregone Conclusion: Nixon resigns, depicted by a teletype.note 
  • Forensic Accounting: The movie made the phrase "Follow the money" a part of the political lexicon and popular culture. In the film, it is whispered to reporter Bob Woodward by Deep Throat as a way to cut through the lies and deceptions and find the truth about the Watergate scandal. This is a fictionalized line created by the movie, but nevertheless catches the spirit of the process perfectly.
  • Good Smoking, Evil Smoking: As the pair are in an elevator, Woodward asks Bernstein "Is there any place you don't smoke?". In a beautiful Gilligan Cut, the next shot shows them leaving the elevator — which is filled with smoke.
  • Government Conspiracy
  • Historical-Domain Character: EVERYONE of course, including Richard Nixon.
  • Human Interest Story: An editorial meeting mentioned making space for a human interest story.
  • Intrepid Reporter: Woodward and Bernstein set the modern standard for investigative reporting in the United States.
  • Minor Crime Reveals Major Plot: What looked like a simple burglary turned out to be part of a wide-ranging bugging operation involving numerous White House staff members, many more of whom were then involved in trying to cover up the White House's involvement in the operation. Whether or not Nixon himself was involved in the bugging is still disputed, but he is near universally agreed to have participated in the cover-up.
  • Mysterious Informant: "Deep Throat" (eventually revealed in 2005 as FBI Deputy Director W. Mark Felt) is the trope namer.
  • Noodle Incident: The Watergate hearings and Nixon's resignation are not depicted in the movie, only related by teletyped headlines before the credits.
    • Woodward tries reaching Deep Throat early on, noting how Deep Throat had been a go-to source on Woodward's earlier stories into the attempted assassination of George Wallace. It's an early clue that Deep Throat was FBI, since the FBI was in charge of that investigation and Woodward quoted FBI officials, including W. Mark Felt.
  • Odd Couple: Woodward is tidy, ex-military, and a registered Republican. He's also an exemplary researcher and interviewer. Bernstein is unkempt, disorganized, and a wannabe rock music critic. He's also a better writer than Woodward. Together, they write investigative reports! And Woodward's apartment is a disaster, while Bernstein's is relatively neat. (Although at one point Bernstein drops cigarette ash all over the couch in Bradlee's office, while Woodward reaches over and dusts it off.)
  • Off the Record: Which starts annoying the hell out of Bradlee, because it makes it harder to vouch that the newspaper’s reporting is accurate. One misprint and Nixon's people will denounce the whole story...
  • The Oner: A six-minute sequence in the hunt for Kenneth H. Dahlberg, starting when Woodward gets back to his desk to use the phone. Redford actually flubs his line towards the end and calls Dahlberg by the wrong name but stays in character which makes the shot work anyway.
  • Portmanteau Couple Name: The two reporters are called "Woodstein" in-universe during a discussion about whether to take them off the story. Bradlee yells WOODSTEIN! when one of their confirmed stories appears to have been wrong.
  • Precision F-Strike:
    Bradlee: Nothing's riding on this except the, uh, First Amendment to the Constitution, freedom of the press, and maybe the future of the country. Not that any of that matters, but if you guys fuck up again, I'm gonna get mad. Goodnight.
    • Also:
      John Mitchell: (quoted as saying) Katie Graham [the Post publisher] is gonna get her tit caught in a big fat wringer if that's published. (Yes, that is a real quote.)
    • Forty years later, Woodward and Bradlee were still chortling over Mitchell's quote on panel shows and interviews. Bradlee referred to "Mrs. Graham's arrangements" in a documentary. Katie Graham herself loved it, and this was her favorite film.
  • Properly Paranoid: Almost everybody with a connection to both the break-in and the CRP corrupt campaigning. Deep Throat practically works up Woodward into a paranoid state after a particular meeting.
    • Mocked earlier by Woodward when Bernstein, wired on thirty cups of coffee, babbles about his meeting with a secretary who finally gave some details, and his fear that CBS would barge in and scoop the story:
      Woodward: You're both paranoid. She's afraid of John Mitchell, and you're afraid of Walter Cronkite.
    • Verified at the end when Deep Throat is certain that the reporters' homes are bugged. In real life, they weren't.
  • Rage Against the Mentor
  • Reality Is Unrealistic: At one point Woodward is trying to interview a noticeably upset man (Kenneth H. Dahlberg, the top Republican fundraiser in Minnesota) over the phone about unusual campaign contributions. Without warning, Dahlberg says "I can’t talk to you right now, my neighbor's wife has been kidnapped!" and hangs up. What looks like a weird excuse to avoid questioning, however, wasn't: his neighbor's wife was kidnapped, and Dahlberg was overwhelmed with helping his neighbor out at the time. (This was the Virginia Piper case. She was fine - shaken up, but not hurt.) Dahlberg did indeed call back later and answer some of Woodward's questions.
  • Revealing Cover-Up
  • Scandalgate: Duh.
  • Scenery Porn: You will never find another movie that depicts office space this beautifully - oh, and the Washington, D.C. backdrops are nice to look at...
  • Shout-Out: An in-film one. Deep Throat relates a story of G. Gordon Liddy putting a lit flame to his hand at the party. The dialogue he relates Liddy as speaking are a word-for-word transcription from a similar scene in Lawrence of Arabia. It should be added that Liddy did this in Real Life, or claimed to, at least.
  • Shown Their Work: The production crew on the film spent $450,000 to replicate the Washington Post newsroom after it was deemed too distracting to shoot in the actual newsroom (as reporters would try to act for the cameras). To that end, they replicated the entire floorplan of the newsroom and got the Post to send over several crates of actual newsroom correspondence, which is shown throughout the film. This trope is also relevant to the tools and tactics the duo use to get information during the film; their methods have become a oft-copied standard of print journalism.
  • Smoking Gun: The tapes implicate Nixon's involvement in the scandal. The stuff about the tapes, however, never comes up during the movie. It happened later.
  • Stealth Hi/Bye: Deep Throat does this to Woodward at their second meeting. Somewhat justified here as Deep Throat was paranoid about being followed, and there was a noise of a car starting up; Woodward turned to look at it, and when he turned back, Deep Throat was gone.
  • Suspiciously Specific Denial: Relating a conversation to managing editor Howard Simons, Woodward explains that some PR guy denied that E. Howard Hunt or Charles Colson knew, or was a part of, the Watergate break-in. He says that he expected such a statement to be made, but he never asked about Watergate. He just wanted to know what Hunt's duties at the White House were.note 
  • Unspoken Plan Guarantee: Inverted in one scene where the pair of reporters plan out how they will get the stubborn bookkeeper to name names.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: Nixon, obviously.
  • Visible Boom Mic: One is seen late in the film when the pair are walking toward Bradlee's office. In the version shown on Turner Classic Movies the mic was digitally removed.
  • The Watcher: Deep Throat. Understandable, as Nixon was known to fire anyone who he even thought was against him; indeed, Woodward and Bernstein were so certain their contact would be killed, that they made it clear they would not reveal or confirm his identity until after he died or revealed it himself. (W. Mark Felt did the latter in 2005 at the age of 91.)
  • What the Hell, Hero?: One of the editors questions why the Post is digging into Watergate. Partly because nobody else was covering the story at all, but mostly because the break-in itself made no sense.
    Scott: Why would the Republicans do it? McGovern's self-destructed just like Humphrey, Muskie, the bunch of them. I don't believe this story. It doesn't make sense.
    • Until Woodward and Bernstein uncover evidence that a hired trickster — Donald Segretti — was sabotaging Democratic primaries. All of a sudden, the break-in made more sense...
    • A subtle one when the guys find out that Sally Aiken, a fellow reporter, used to date a White House communications director (Ken W. Clawson) and that he admitted to her that he was involved with some of Nixon's dirty tricks (specifically, writing the Canuck letter). Woodward and Bernstein ask her why she didn't tell them earlier:
    Sally Aiken: I guess I don't have the taste for the jugular you guys have.