EXCLUSIVE: Open Road just got this testimonial for Spotlight from Carl Bernstein, who with Bob Woodward led the Washington Post investigation that traced the Watergate burglary all the way to the Nixon White House and was immortalized in All The President’s Men. They’d been trying to get him to see the movie, and finally he rang up producer Michael Sugar with this quote: “Spotlight is a film that demonstrates finally, in the era of Twitter, why we need great reporting: more than ever—and shows how real journalism is done, with all its difficulty and complexity and, especially, the moral ambiguities and choices a truly free press must deal with. Ultimately, as Spotlight makes clear, the press remains our last chance at holding institutions accountable through the best obtainable version of the truth.”
What is intriguing about this endorsement during the Best Picture voting week is that, the whole time director Tom McCarthy, his co-writer Josh Singer and the entire cast were out promoting Spotlight, they assiduously steered clear of trying to compare themselves to All The President’s Men, the 1976 Alan J. Pakula-directed film about the Woodward-Bernstein Washington Post triumph that led to Richard Nixon’s resignation. That reticence is understandable, given that All The President’s Men is considered one of the best American pictures ever made. But there are valid grounds for comparisons: Both are journalistic procedural story lines; Watergate was a local story for the Washington Post, just the way that the Catholic Church pedophile-priest scandal was a local story for the Boston Globe‘s Spotlight team. In both cases, taking on a dominant institution in town — the White House and the Catholic Church — would have ended careers had the reporters not nailed each story to the tree and forced historic reforms.
The aftermath of All The President’s Men brought a flood of aspiring journalists into J schools, and it’s conceivable that if Spotlight doesn’t do the same, it certainly has reminded everyone of the need for dedicated investigative journalists, something that came to light in the scandal of lead-laced drinking water in Flint, MI. This has helped Spotlight, whose steadily building gross has surpassed $37 million since opening last fall, to stay fresh in a Best Picture race that is too close to call.
Starring Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman as Woodward and Bernstein All The President’s Men also was part of a highly competitive Best Picture category. It was nominated along with the Sidney Lumet-directed Network, the Martin Scorsese-directed Taxi Driver, the Hal Ashby-directed Bound For Glory, and the upset victor, the John Avildsen-directed Rocky. That was 40 years ago, and still poignant considering that Sylvester Stallone is the favorite in the Best Supporting Actor category for Creed, playing Rocky Balboa in what has to be the longest span for an actor who was Oscar nominated for playing the same character.