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Dan's Review: "The Post" hearkens to a greater era of journalism

Jan 11, 2018 07:42PM ● Published by Dan Metcalf

Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep in The Post - © 2017 20th Century Fox.

The Post (20th Century Fox)

Rated PG-13 for language and brief war violence.

Starring Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Sarah Paulson, Bob Odenkirk, Tracy Letts, Bradley Whitford, Bruce Greenwood, Carrie Coon, Matthew Rhys, Alison Brie, Jesse Plemons, David Cross, Zach Woods, Pat Healy, Michael Stuhlbarg, Jessie Mueller, Stark Sands, Neal Huff.

Written by Liz Hannah and Josh Singer.

Directed by Steven Spielberg.

GRADE: A-

REVIEW:

Print is dead, they say. There was a time when it ruled, though. Publishers were giants, reporters were rock stars and their work spawned actual conversations (not the social media trollery of today). We now have an entire generation of souls whose fingers have yet to experience the texture of pulp on their fingertips. Way, way back in the 1960s, newspapers were still big players in society, and played a rather important role in government despite the rise of television on the scene. Such was the setting in Washington D.C. as Americans began to learn the truth behind our country’s role in the Vietnam War. No newspaper played a larger role in keeping an eye on government than The Washington Post, which is the premise for The Post, Steven Spielberg’s latest historical drama.

Meryl Streep stars as Kay Graham the Post’s publisher, and Tom Hanks stars as Ben Bradlee, editor-in-chief. The story begins in Vietnam, where a government contractor named Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys) became disillusioned with struggle, recognizing the disparity between what he saw on the ground and what the government (and press) told the public through four presidential administrations (Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon). His conscience leads Ellsberg to copy and leak portions of a study, now known as “The Pentagon Papers” to the New York Times. Post staff, including Ben Bagdikian (Bob Odenkirk) get wind of Ellsberg’s whereabouts and make a deal to get more of the papers published. In the meantime, Nixon threatens to jail any editor or publisher who prints the papers. The New York Times balks, but Bradlee convinces Graham to go ahead with more, leading to a showdown in the Supreme Court between the news media and the White House. Go read a history book (okay, Google it) to see what happened with the Pentagon Papers.

The Post is a very good film, although it suffers a little from what I perceive as “Spiebergian” embellishment. The good parts: Streep is sensational as Graham, portraying a strong woman dealing with changing societal perceptions of the day. She does not come across as a social justice warrior, but a person who struggles with her powerful role, while trying to hold to her status among Washington elites, including one of her best friends Bob McNamara (Bruce Greenwood), who was Secretary of Defense under Kennedy and Johnson). She knows her tough decision to publish intimate details of a failed governmental scheme will hurt people she knows, and Streep pulls this conflict off masterfully. Hanks is his usual powerful self as the man pushing to uncover the truth, while never seeming to come across as patronizing, scheming or bullying Graham.

Getting back to my qualms about Spielberg’s penchant for romanticizing history, I think he could try a little harder to hold back on his signature style and still make a great film without embellishment. One scene in particular is when Graham exits the Supreme Court Building as the music swells and a throng of young woman gather and ogle over her as a great symbol of female empowerment. Graham’s actual history proves her strength without leaning on such mawkish crutches. I mean, we just saw her stand up to Nixon and the “highest court in the land.” No need for Spielberg to batter us over the head.

The Post is an important film for our time, not because of Trump or any other current political scandal, but because it reminds us of a time when journalists sought more truth than they did clicks, and put in the legwork to check their facts before tweeting rumors. It should be noted that republicans and democrats were found at equal fault for perpetuating the Vietnam War (well documented in the movie), and the reporters of the day were willing to hold all parties accountable. The Post is a good reminder of what good can come from actual objectivity. 


The Post Trailer

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