'Watergate' looks to Nixon's past, with an eye on the present

One misguided decision can partially offset a whole lot of good ones, and so it is with "Watergate," a compr...

Posted: Oct 12, 2018 3:54 PM
Updated: Oct 12, 2018 3:54 PM

One misguided decision can partially offset a whole lot of good ones, and so it is with "Watergate," a comprehensive trip into the way-back machine, which makes the serious misstep of dramatically reenacting the Nixon tapes. Receiving a theatrical run in advance of a three-night stand on History channel, it's still worthwhile as a dense look at America's past -- and in terms of checking executive actions, perhaps a preview of its future.

Director Charles Ferguson ("Inside Job") interviews a who's who of key Watergate figures, providing a deep dive into Richard Nixon's flawed psyche, which allowed the abuses of power and subsequent obstruction of justice that eventually forced his resignation in 1974. But if the hybrid approach he employs by weaving in the dramatized scenes isn't quite a cancer on his documentary, it's a drag on an otherwise first-rate account.

Political Figures - US

Richard Nixon

In terms of an insider's guide go what transpired, one could hardly ask for a better cast of characters, including reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, Dan Rather, Nixon White House aides John Dean and Pat Buchanan, Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Elsberg, the late John McCain, and former members of the Senate Watergate Committee, like Lowell Weicker, to name a few.

But then Ferguson mucks that up by having actors perform the taped Oval Office meetings, with Douglas Hodge as Nixon, complete with sweaty upper lip and at-times slurred, drunken delivery.

The problem is that we've seen plenty of dramatic portrayals of this period, from "All the President's Men" to "Nixon" to "The Final Days" to, most recently, "The Post." Because there's such a rich treasure trove of video and archival material, mixing actors in with the actual footage of Nixon -- uttering by-now indelible phrases like "I'm not a crook" -- merely muddies the waters in wholly unnecessary, neither-fish-nor-fowl fashion.

"Watergate" improves markedly as use of the tapes recedes, peaking with its dramatic framing of the Saturday Night Massacre -- when Nixon moved to fire special prosecutor Archibald Cox, prompting the resignation of Attorney General Elliot Richardson and Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus (also among those interviewed).

The filmmakers vividly recreate that period in part through the eyes of young lawyers who were part of Cox's team, such as Jill Wine-Banks and Richard Ben-Veniste, who recalls realizing, "The president hadn't fired us, he'd fired Archie," and that Nixon would receive a lesson that "the legal system is not to be trifled with."

Ferguson (who also narrates the film) closes with the not-so-subtle reminder that those who forget history are doomed to repeat it. In the press notes, he states that he began the project four years ago as "a historical detective story," only to recognize that the issues within were "urgently relevant."

From that perspective, "Watergate" serves as a road map to understanding the greatest constitutional crisis the U.S. has experienced, at least thus far, and a reminder of those who stepped forward -- in journalism and government -- in that moment. Moreover, with so many of these key participants now septuagenarians and octogenarians, the opportunity to interview them at length seems like a genuine service.

At more than four hours sans commercials, "Watergate" exhibits an admirable richness of detail and depth. If only Ferguson had trusted the documentary aspects enough to let them and Nixon speak, without the unnecessary embroidery, for themselves.

"Watergate" will play in New York and Los Angeles beginning Oct. 12 and Oct. 19, respectively, before premiering on History on Nov. 2.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 49063

Reported Deaths: 2732
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion11760689
Lake5276246
Elkhart340255
Allen2835133
St. Joseph200169
Cass16429
Hamilton1608101
Hendricks1425100
Johnson1296118
Porter76738
Tippecanoe7359
Clark66844
Madison66764
Bartholomew59145
Vanderburgh5876
LaPorte58326
Howard58058
Kosciusko5624
Marshall5016
Noble48528
LaGrange4779
Jackson4733
Boone45443
Delaware45252
Hancock45236
Shelby43125
Floyd38444
Morgan32731
Monroe30928
Montgomery29720
Grant29626
Clinton2902
Dubois2886
Henry28216
White26610
Decatur25432
Lawrence24825
Dearborn23823
Vigo2388
Warrick22729
Harrison21622
Greene19032
Miami1862
Jennings17712
Putnam1708
DeKalb1634
Scott1628
Daviess14817
Wayne1436
Orange13623
Perry1359
Steuben1302
Franklin1268
Ripley1247
Jasper1232
Wabash1142
Carroll1102
Fayette1037
Newton9910
Gibson982
Whitley975
Starke943
Randolph804
Huntington782
Jefferson762
Wells751
Fulton721
Jay680
Washington671
Pulaski661
Knox640
Clay604
Rush583
Owen501
Adams491
Benton480
Posey450
Sullivan451
Spencer441
Brown421
Blackford392
Crawford320
Fountain322
Tipton311
Switzerland280
Parke240
Martin220
Ohio180
Vermillion140
Warren141
Union130
Pike110
Unassigned0193

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 60181

Reported Deaths: 2991
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Franklin10879439
Cuyahoga8277383
Hamilton6287206
Lucas2836303
Marion273639
Summit2241207
Pickaway220541
Montgomery220131
Mahoning1861239
Butler167447
Columbiana130960
Stark1156113
Lorain106468
Trumbull99774
Warren89525
Clark7809
Delaware61715
Fairfield60517
Tuscarawas58510
Belmont55522
Medina54332
Lake52920
Licking52012
Miami47531
Portage46159
Wood45251
Ashtabula43744
Clermont4317
Geauga41443
Wayne36552
Richland3515
Allen32841
Mercer2909
Greene2879
Darke25326
Erie25022
Holmes2453
Huron2282
Madison2029
Ottawa16024
Washington14020
Sandusky13814
Crawford1365
Putnam13215
Ross1323
Coshocton1302
Hardin12312
Morrow1181
Auglaize1074
Jefferson922
Union921
Monroe8917
Muskingum891
Hancock831
Preble801
Athens791
Hocking798
Guernsey763
Lawrence740
Williams722
Shelby704
Clinton680
Logan651
Fulton630
Ashland621
Carroll603
Wyandot605
Brown591
Scioto540
Defiance533
Knox531
Fayette480
Highland461
Champaign441
Van Wert420
Perry371
Seneca352
Henry320
Jackson260
Paulding260
Adams241
Pike240
Vinton222
Gallia201
Harrison121
Meigs120
Morgan110
Noble110
Unassigned00
Fort Wayne
Broken Clouds
81° wxIcon
Hi: 92° Lo: 72°
Feels Like: 85°
Angola
Broken Clouds
75° wxIcon
Hi: 90° Lo: 72°
Feels Like: 75°
Huntington
Few Clouds
78° wxIcon
Hi: 90° Lo: 72°
Feels Like: 80°
Decatur
Clear
73° wxIcon
Hi: 91° Lo: 72°
Feels Like: 73°
Van Wert
Clear
73° wxIcon
Hi: 92° Lo: 72°
Feels Like: 73°
AM Storms, Slightly Cooler Friday
WFFT Radar
WFFT Temperatures
WFFT National

Community Events