It doesn’t throw in those extra elements of intrigue and flash and flavor that entertaining films sometimes do. It adheres to the facts so closely (and to its immense credit, I should add) that it’s more of a muted, highly studious docudrama than a film that’s out to grab you or make you chuckle or give you that deep-down satisfied feeling.
Just about every scene in She Said is gripping or absorbing in some modest way, but unlike All The President’s Men, it doesn’t have an abundance of scenes that tickle or surprise or get you high.
And while ATPM had a pair of glamorous movie stars in the two lead roles (Robert Redford, Dustin Hoffman) and otherwise cast several seasoned actors in supporting parts (Jason Robards, Jack Warden, Jane Alexander, Martin Balsam, Lindsay Crouse, Ned Beatty), She Said goes with a cast of respected, first-rate actors (Carey Mulligan, Zoe Kazan in the lead roles) who, Kazan and Mulligan aside, aren’t highly recognizable, much less marquee names.
When you think of the scenes or bits that really work and get your blood rushing in All The President’s Men, the list boils down to 15:
(1) The extreme closeup of typewriter keys loudly slamming into white paper, followed by the shot of President Nixon’s helicopter arriving at the U.S, Capitol;
(2) The Watergate break-in and subsequent arrest;
(3) The amusing court arraignment coonversation between Robert Redford‘s Bob Woodward and Nicolas Coster‘s “Markham”, and particularly Markham telling Woodward “I’m not here”;
(4) Woodward’s oil-and-water relationship with Dustin Hoffman‘s Carl Bernstein, illustrated by this and that bit (such as Bernstein surreptitiously rewriting Woodward’s copy).
(5) Woodward’s three or four parking-garage meetings with Hal Holbrook‘s “Deep Throat”;
(6) Jason Robards‘ Ben Bradlee giving Bernstein a look when Bernstein insists that the White House investigating Teddy Kennedy thing is a “goddam important story,” and later telling Woodstein to “get some” luck;
(7) Bernstein tricking his way into the office of Miami district attorney Martin Dardis (Ned Beatty) and obtaining incriminating info about CREEP Midwest finance chairman Kenneth Dahlberg;
(8) That long scene in which Woodward reaches Dahlberg on the phone (“My neighbor’s wife has just been kidnapped!”) and discovers that Dahlberg passed along a $25K check to CREEP finance chairman Maurice Stans;
(9) Woodstein persuading Washington Post colleague Kay Eddy (Lindsay Crouse) to slip them a list of CREEP employees, followed by the Ken Clawson phone call scene in which he insists to Bradlee that has “a wife and a house and a dog and a cat”;
(10) Woodstein lucking out when they meet with an apparent CREEP employee (Allyn Ann McLerie‘s Carolyn Abbott”) who heartily approves of what they’re doing but doesn’t work for CREEP;
(11) Bernstein managing to winnow his way into the home of John Mitchell‘s bookkeeper (Jane Alexander) and getting her to answer some key questions. The next morning the two of them trick the bookkeeper into confirming that one of the slush fund controllers was Herb Porter. Alexander’s reply: “How did you know about Porter?”
(12) Bernstein persuading a reluctant source to confirm that H.R, Haldeman was the fifth man to control the slush fund;
(13) Woodstein interviewing Hugh Sloan (Stephen Collins) at his home;
(14) The setback when it’s reported that Sloan didn’t confirm that Haldeman and the follow-up when Deep Throat chides Woodward for setting the investigation back months,
(15) Woodstein telling the bathrobed Bradlee on his front lawn that the reason Sloan didn’t confirm Haldeman was that nobody in the grand jury proceeding asked him about Haldeman, and that they’re all under surveillance, and Bradlee reminding them that the Post is “under a lot of pressure, you know, and you put us there — nothing’s riding on this except the First Amendment of 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 going to get mad.’”
Each one of these scenes has something that pulls you in and gives you a chuckle, a surprise, some kind of deeper understanding or an absorbing character study aspect….something or other that significantly adds to the investigative narrative.
My estimation is that by the ATPM standard, She Said has maybe six or seven such scenes. Maybe I’m not being generous enough; maybe the tally is closer to nine or ten. They all have merit and intrigue as far as they go, but they don’t land as strongly. And there’s certainly a lot less humor in She Said than in ATPM.
All this said, She Said is still a first-rate film. It just has a lesser pedigree than the 1976 film made by Redford, director Alan Pakula and screenwriter William Goldman. And that’s not a putdown.