VOD film review: Watergate
James R | On 05, Feb 2020
Director: Charles Ferguson
Cast: Douglas Hodge, Stewart Alexander, Richard Ben-Veniste, Richard Nixon
Watch Watergate online in the UK: Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Google Play / Sky Store
There are some films that you wish were no longer than 90 minutes. Watergate, a four-hour documentary about the titular President Nixon scandal, is a film that earns every one of its minutes.
The documentary combines cinematic pizazz with the kind of in-depth detail you’d expect from a PBS series, breaking down every step of Watergate from beginning to end. We pick things up as Nixon’s presidency is showing warning signs and go all the way through to his disgraced resignation. Arguably, there’s not much to be discovered anew, because it’s all been covered before by All the President’s Men and Frost/Nixon. But Watergate the movie brings a fresh sense of context, and quietly emphasises the ripples of issues that still resonate in the corridors of the White House today.
Ferguson tracks the events over the two years, from a special prosecutor being appointed to Nixon firing them, from the break-in at the Democratic National Committee to Nixon declaring “I am not a crook”. Throughout, there’s an emphasis on the media’s reporting of the situation, not only as essential material to structure the narrative but as an interesting snapshot of society as well, particularly as we see different representatives, lawyers and members of the administration peel away from toxic President.
Most effective of all, though, isn’t the expertly edited and assembled archive footage but the tape recordings themselves, which Ferguson uses to stage re-enactments. More like readings of incriminating court transcripts by actors than dramatised versions of events, they are brilliantly eerie and entirely convincing – because, of course, they’re rooted in actual facts.
The result, ironically, feels like eavesdropping on history that’s been covertly bugged for us to learn from in hindsight. It keeps you gripped for several hours – and leaves you wondering for several hours more whether anyone has learned anything at all.