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The Post

The Post review by Guy S. Malone, Researcher

Stephen Spielberg has a tendency to show an interest in more projects than ones to which he ultimately can commit (IMDb lists 20 projects in development).  In March of 2015, he and Jennifer Lawrence won the rights to It's What I Do, the compelling autobiography of war photographer Lynsey Addario, who has covered the hottest spots in the Middle East and was taken captive in Libya.  Last year, he began pre-production on The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara with Oscar Isaac, the true story of a Jewish boy in Italy, kidnapped by the Vatican because he had been baptized by a priest.  Instead, he moved forward with The Post, starring Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, old faithful John Williams, and a slew of TV stars, dramatizing the 1st Amendment battle between the press and the government over a cover-up of events surrounding US involvement in Vietnam.

A compelling story, but considering those involved, a cynic might accuse the Director of a naked Oscar grab.  No such cynic is Captain HE, a member in good standing of our august film group, who saw it as "Spielberg’s effort to counter the Trump created fake news storm, educate a new generation of Americans and praise the reemergence of the Woman’s Movement.  Really, an entertaining movie that reminds us that to trust your government to tell you the truth is like expecting Donald Trump to sacrifice for any cause but himself."

The film opens in Vietnam, where Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys), a Harvard-educated Marine, embedded with US troops, is gathering information and reporting to Robert MacNamara (Bruce Greenwood, never better), Secretary of Defense, who want to compile a historical archive on US involvement in the region.  When Ellsberg becomes aware that US officials consider the war unwinnable but are determined to prolong it for political reasons, he decides to make his research public so that more soldiers won't have to die in a futile war.  He delivers the report to NY Times reporter, Neil Sheehan.  Enter Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks, hardass true believer), managing editor of the Washington Post.  Sheehan had dropped off the grid, and Bradlee, who wants to elevate his paper from a local rag to a national player like the NY Times, fears that Sheehan is onto something big.  Too late, he learns his fears are justified, but as soon as the Times releases a portion of the information, the Nixon White House obtains a court injunction, barring further publication arguing national security and the endangerment it would bring our troops.

Meanwhile, Katharine "Kay" Graham (Meryl Streep), has taken ownership of the Post after the suicide of her husband.  Trying to find her way in the established patriarchal order, she is about to make the paper a publicly-traded stock.  The only hurdle to Graham's plan is that the Post must avoid a catastrophic event for the next eight days, after which the banks' commitment will be contract-bound.  What could possibly happen to jeopardize that?  Well, star Post reporter Ben Bagdikian (Bob Odenkirk) connects the dots on the source of the Times' story, and they lead to his old friend Ellsberg.  Bradlee sees an opportunity to get the full report and publish material the Times has not yet revealed--in his mind going beyond the purview of the injunction.  As Bradlee reveals his plan to Graham, she realizes that the revelations could destroy MacNamara who happens to be one of her oldest and closest friends; further, it could land both Graham and Bradlee in jail and destroy the paper.  With Byzantine intrigue, Bagdikian contacts and arranges a meeting with Ellsberg (an adventure in itself that takes advantage of Odenkirk's comic touch to lighten the suspense) and ends up with thousands of pages, boxed up beside him on a plane back to Washington.

Thus sets up the many-faceted drama, pitting Bradlee, Bagdikian, and other Post notables like Meg Greenfield (a charismatic Carrie Coon) against the Nixon White House.  But first, they have to get the approval of Graham and to do that, they have to get past her top advisor Fritz Beebe (the chameleonic Tracy Letts), Board veteran Arther Parsons (Bradley Whitford, purse-lipped and patrician), and the Post legal team represented by Roger Clark (Jesse Plemons, excellently cast against type).  Spielberg masterfully cuts from one group to the next, to interactions between and among all, culminating in a decision that Graham can't avoid.

Journalism has been the fodder of some excellent films, notably All the President's Men and Spotlight.  Despite uniformly excellent performances by a quality cast,  The Post does not reach those ethereal heights, mainly because Speilberg leans a bit too far into Clint Eastwood territory: he tells us how just and righteous it is instead of simply relating the story and letting us judge for ourselves (at one point Bradlee says, “We have to be the check on their power. If we don’t hold them accountable, who will?”).  And the feminist iconography of Graham's victorious exit from the Supreme Court through a throng of adoring women cuts the ham close to the bone.  Having gone to Spielberg's film just days after we saw Darkest Hour, it was easy to compare the two: The Post was slicker and more polished, like a movie; Darkest Hour rang truer, looked truer, and as a result carried more suspense.  Overall, heed Captain HE's words though, and see The Post not only because is it is a very good film, but more importantly as a well-timed reminder of the importance of an unfettered free press and the First Amendment protections against government tyranny.
8.5 out of 10 on an Entertainment Scale
7.0 out of 10 on an Awards Scale


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