Some directors might not be prolific, but the movies they make are profound statements about humanity that stick with us over time. One almost wonders if the jobs they had before directing helped them to see the world in a slightly more significant way. From 1969 to 1997, Alan J. Pakula only directed 16 films, but at least a few of them have continued to be recognized for their greatness. Before he became a director, he had produced seven movies, including the Best Picture nominee, To Kill a Mockingbird (1962). His penchant for legal and political thrillers was present through his nearly 30 years of directing, and Pakula certainly showed how it could be done and done well. Even though he died at the age of 70 due to a car accident, his films will live on in posterity. This week’s two films highlight some of the best of director Alan J. Pakula.
All the President’s Men
Length: 138 minutes / 2.30 hours
While To Kill a Mockingbird was the first film Pakula produced to be nominated for Best Picture, All the President’s Men (1976) was the first film he directed to be nominated for this prestigious award. Many consider some of his previous films, like Klute (1971) and The Parallax View (1974), to be precursors to this political thriller. With all the legal implications that can come from accusing the White House of something as serious as the Watergate scandal, Alan J. Pakula showed us how a political thriller can be just as much of a legal thriller, even if it never gets to the courtroom. Some of his later works, like Presumed Innocent (1990) and The Pelican Brief (1993), continue in the same legal thriller genre Pakula has shown he knows how to handle. Still, All the President’s Men is his most famous, even being recognized on the American Film Institute’s (AFI’s) Top 100 list at #77.
The burglary of the Democratic National Committee isn’t considered to be important, but The Washington Post decides to report on it anyway. What initially seems like a routine robbery soon becomes much more suspicious as the thieves are shown to have connections to former CIA employees who themselves are connected to individuals in Richard Nixon’s inner circle. Diving further into this conspiracy, Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) contacts his anonymous informant, “Deep Throat” (Hal Holbrook), and learns this incident goes all the way to the top of the government. Woodward and his reporting partner, Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman), need substantial evidence that the president is behind these wrongdoings since any false accusations could be considered slander and could possibly endanger their lives if the allegations are true. The two reporters write the article anyway and leave the rest to fate.
Length: 150 minutes / 2.50 hours
Along with All the President’s Men, another of Alan J. Pakula’s films, Sophie’s Choice (1982) managed to break onto the AFI’s Top 100 list at #91. It’s no wonder why, considering it was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay and ended up earning Meryl Streep her first Best Actress Oscar (but her second Oscar overall at the time). Pakula wrote the screenplay for three other films he directed, including the aforementioned Presumed Innocent and The Pelican Brief. And while Sophie’s Choice isn’t necessarily the same as his legal or political thrillers, there is certainly a good amount of drama present in this Holocaust period piece. The fact that “Sophie’s Choice” is practically a verb in today’s popular culture just goes to show how significant a film it has remained over the decades since its release.
Zofia “Sophie” Zawistowski (Meryl Streep) is a Polish immigrant who moved to Brooklyn after the horrors of the Holocaust left her alone. Back in Europe, she was married and had a happy life with her two children. Sophie seems to be trying to regain her happiness in New York but ends up being in an abusive relationship with Nathan Landau (Kevin Kline). After becoming friends with a writer named Stingo (Peter MacNicol), she eventually runs to him when Nathan is revealed to be a paranoid schizophrenic and reacts violently shortly afterward. During their time together, Sophie tells Stingo about how she had to choose which of her children would be sent to a Nazi work camp and which one would be executed. Even though Stingo wants to help Sophie, she returns to Nathan, and the two of them die shortly afterward.
2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 awesome Alan J. Pakula movies
Bacon #: 2 (Klute (directed) / Donald Sutherland -> Animal House / Kevin Bacon)