Tuesday, November 13, 2007

All The President's Men

Yesterday's post about Peter Morgan and his films The Deal, The Queen and The Last King of Scotland has me thinking about other movies that depict real news events in a dramatic fashion. How someone dramatizes and makes interesting a story that was recently headline news is beyond me. When it is done well I always like it.

Recently I saw A Mighty Heart starring a nearly unrecognizable Angelina Jolie as Mariane Pearl, the wife of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. Daniel Pearl was kidnapped in Pakistan in 2002 and murdered by members of the Taliban. Jolie is great and honestly I don't know much of her work unless Brangelina is a film I missed. Here is the thing about this film: you know what is going to happen from frame one, yet you are riveted. Go figure. It's part detective story, part documentary, part love story and all terrific.

To me the touchstone of these real life films is All the President's Men. Here is a film that came out not long after Nixon resigned, when the country was Watergated to death, yet the film did huge box office, won Oscars and still holds me in its grip when I watch it.

Both films are about journalists and the slow, often boring process of discovery. Both have excellent performances by big name actors and both are gripping. Even though I know Woodward and Bernstein survived and Nixon would resign I still get spooked when I see Woodward in the garage with Deep Throat.

To me what makes All the President's Men work is the quality of filmmaking. Alan Pakula, the director, brought all of the elements together- great source material, an excellent script, top notch actors and great Gordon Willis visuals. It is a defining moment of translating a real story to the screen.


Monday, November 12, 2007

The Real Deal

I saw the British Film The Deal the other day. The film depicts the relationship between Tony Blair and Gordon Brown during the Thatcher and Major eras of British politics. It was written by Peter Morgan (pictured here) who also wrote The Queen, The Last King of Scotland - about Idi Amin- and the play Frost/Nixon- which is being adapted into a film as well.

What interests me about Morgan is how he mines real events and real characters to create his drama. In a profile in the New Yorker a few months ago he said what interests him is not so much history, but "narratives in which real public figures are thrown into unlikely relationships." John Lahr reported, "as a storyteller, Morgan is drawn to volatile, ambiguous antagaonists, " and how ambition interests him "because it's sure fire indicator of damage." I wish my students could de-construct and define their work as well.

Peter Morgan came to screenwriting after a bout of stagefright stalled his acting career and I think he is a good example of how there are many different avenues into the film business. Yet, what impresses me the most about his work is how he is so certain of the types of stories that appeal to him. He has found his milieu and knows how to best mine it. I look forward to seeing his next project.