For those of us attracted to documentaries, “Alan Pakula: Going for the Truth” connected a lot of dots and pushed even more buttons. In 110 minutes of major actor interviews and film clips, we are retold the stories of our lives. Perhaps the biggest revelation was how Pakula’s directorial insight was behind so many of the most provocative films of our generation.
From a Polish Jewish family in the Bronx, Pakula made his way from Yale Drama School to the cartoon department of Warner Bros., then on to Oscar nominations and a single win. The most compelling parts of the documentary are clips from top-rung actors and writers who knew him best. Harrison Ford wept about Pakula’s demise, and much was made about the horrible way he died at 70. Dustin Hoffman, Julia Roberts and Robert Redford touted his sadness and insight. Some credited him with having the skills of a psychiatrist to analyze people with empathy and a touch of sadness.
“All the President’s Men” was one of his movies, and Woodward and Bernstein had a lot to expose. Along the way, Woodward shares the drama and tragedy of his own childhood with Pakula, whose high school senior annual labeled him “a still small voice.” Even back then.
Meryl Streep (star of Pakula’s “Sophie’s Choice”) said he had “methodical curiosity.” Jane Fonda talked about his “Klute” paranoia trilogy and how he extracted the best emotions from the actors. Julia Roberts recalls “The Pelican Brief.” The only Oscar that he did win was for “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
Leave the movie thinking “How did so many of us not know the reclusive Pakula’s cache and reputation akin to Spielberg’s and Scorsese’s?” Then recall Ford’s quote, “Beauty Always Dies” … and just how did Pakula meet his horrific end?