From All the Presidents Men to the Bourne series, wiretapping is widespread in Hollywood. No wonder Trump is twitchy
Between the first two Godfather films, Francis Ford Coppola knocked out this small-scale but wide-reaching thriller about a master surveillance expert, Harry Caul (Gene Hackman), who is memorably described as the best bugger on the west coast a line that always gets an unintended laugh from British audiences. This is the sort of film that could make the most easygoing viewer feel twitchy, so imagine how it might inflame the paranoia of a blowhard like Trump; the whole picture only proves his assertion that there are a lot of bad dudes out there. Of course, Harry goes nuts by the end, and destroys his entire apartment in the search for bugging devices although Trump may see this not as cautionary but as a metaphor for draining the swamp. Whats more, there is even a little inbuilt cheat in the plot: when we first hear the secretly recorded conversation on which the entire film hinges, it sounds one way (Hed kill us if he got the chance). Played back at the end, it has an entirely different emphasis (
Hed kill us if he got the chance). Creative licence or fake news? Either way, its an object lesson in the art of Trumpian spin, where truth means whatever he happens to be saying at that particular moment.
Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman in All the Presidents Men. Photograph: Snap/Rex Features
In his tweets accusing the Obama administration of wiretapping his New York offices, Trump invoked the spectre of the USs greatest presidential scandal: This is Nixon/Watergate, he fumed. So it seems reasonable to assume he has seen the movie that repackaged those events for cinema audiences. But he will have needed to be selective about which lessons he took from it. After all, this is a film about the brilliance and cunning of two men Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) and Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) who belong to what Steve Bannon openly refers to as the opposition party. Those Washington Post reporters broke the Watergate story with the help of the unnamed source they christened Deep Throat and dont be surprised if those were the two words that made Trumps ears prick up. Though he may not have been paying quite as much attention to the scene where Woodward tells Bernstein: If youre gonna do it, do it right. If youre gonna hype it, hype it with the facts.
River Phoenix, David Strathairn, Dan Akroyd and Robert Redford in Sneakers. Photograph: Ronald Grant Archive
Robert Redford again, this time in a lighter and fluffier surveillance story, but one that would be no less effective in confirming Trumps suspicions about those damn scheming, Clinton-loving liberals. Redford plays a security expert and former radical whose college days were spent diverting funds from Republican party coffers to assorted charitable causes. The plot pits him and his techno-buddies (including a blind phone-tapping genius) against an anarchist (Ben Kingsley) who is intent on destroying the system. The film shows Kingsley hacking into and outsmarting Trumps bete noire, the FBI, while it also paints the NSA (another organisation besmirched by Trump) in a sinister light, two decades before Edward Snowden blew the whistle on it. Still, he wont be happy with the ending, which shows Redford back to his old tricks and siphoning off Republican money to the United Negro College Fund, Amnesty International and Greenpeace.
Will Smith and Gene Hackman in Enemy of the State. Photograph: Moviestore/Rex/Shutterstock
It will delight Trump no end that the NSA comes in for a bruising once again in this conspiracy thriller. From the opening scene, in which an NSA operative engineers the death of a congressman who is blocking a bill that would grant greater powers of surveillance over US citizens, phone-tapping plays a major part in the story. So concerned was the NSA by the way it was portrayed in the film that there were memos flying back and forth across its various departments. I saw a preview for the new movie Enemy of the State and to my surprise found out that NSA were the bad guys in it, wrote one NSA employee in an in-house email, while the then director of the NSA, Lt Gen Michael Hayden, told CNN in 2001: I made the judgment that we couldnt survive with the popular impression of this agency being formed by the last Will Smith movie. As with The Conversation (which is referenced nicely in an appearance from Gene Hackman, playing Harry Caul in all but name), the impression given by the film is clear: you are being watched.
John Travolta in Blow Out. Photograph: Columbia/Rex/Shutterstock
A mix of Blow Up (where a photographer accidentally captures evidence of a murder) and The Conversation, Brian De Palmas masterful thriller features a sound effects designer (John Travolta) who is taping ambient noise one evening when he records the sound of a car accident that turns out to provide clues to political skullduggery. Inspired by the Chappaquiddick scandal, in which Mary Jo Kopechne died in a car that was driven off a bridge by Senator Ted Kennedy, and still haunted by the ghost of Watergate, Blow Out would be helpful in reminding Trump that someone, somewhere, is always listening. Given that the meddling hero is part of the movie industry (ie Hollywood, another of Trumps enemies), the film also confirms some of his other prejudices into the bargain.
Joan Allen in The Bourne Ultimatum. Photograph: Jasin Boland/Universal Pictures International
These films, about a brainwashed CIA killing machine who gradually recovers his memory and goes rogue, would appeal most strongly to Trumps particular combination of short attention span and heightened paranoia. The bonanza of conspiracy theories are regularly being interrupted by wham-bam action sequences that might have been designed specifically to keep him from getting bored. Trump, dont forget, is a man who fast-forwards through Jean-Claude Van Dammes Bloodsport just to get to the fisticuffs and roundhouse kicks. But should he be listening during the talky bits, he may find one exchange from the third instalment, The Bourne Ultimatum, particularly pertinent to his style of governance. The conscientious CIA agent Pamela Landy (Joan Allen) takes issue with the company policy of bumping people off willy-nilly. You start down this path and where does it end? she asks her superior (David Strathairn), who gives the sort of response that Trump and his coterie could really get behind: It ends when weve won.