Film Review: Streep and Hanks shine in Spielberg’s timely THE POST

December 20, 2017

 

 

 Courtesy of Fox 

“The Post" might just be the most ironic movie of 2017. 


The film, which is set to hit wide release later in January, is Steven Spielberg again at his top form. Only this time, he's got heavy hitters Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep in the driver's seat. "The Post" is a hot-while-you-got-it kind of story. Much like the intensity to meet press deadlines, embargoes, and so forth - Spielberg delivers a pressure cooker of a film and one that is eerily relevant in 2017 as the event which surrounds this true story was back in 1970.

A President who was trying to silence the media, and deflame the first amendment. Sound familiar? Defending the constitution hasn't been this much fun since Nicholas Cage tried to steal it in "National Treasure."

Most of this can be contributed to Streep's best performances in ages as Kay Graham, the first leading lady in the newspaper industry. She's the cat in a room full of dogs. Always trying to make her voice heard, but it seems like the men have all the bright ideas. Streep brings a lasting image to this role, one that is fueled with legacy. An advocate for free speech, and bringing forth an honest paper for the people. She inherited The Washington Post from her late husband, and is now the one calling the shots. In an effort to help with struggling sales, and circulation Graham is putting the Post as a public company on the New York Stock exchange.

One reason that readership might be down, is because The Post is always one step behind the competition. While The New York Times is publishing fresh content daily, it always feels like everyone else is coming up empty handed. The film takes place during the controversial presidency of Richard Nixon, and when tensions were at an all time high because of the Vietnam war, "The Post" is Spielberg going back to his roots. A newspaper drama, that is so acutely directed, that it sometime gets away from him.

Hanks brings the nuance and charasmia of Ben Bradlee, the lead editor for The Post and the brains behind one of the most notorious publishings in newspaper history, to the big screen. The man is constantly shifting with moral ethics and credibility. Him and his team of reporters (among them: a wonderful, scene stealing, Bob Odenkirk, and an unrecognizable David Cross) hit the jackpot when a top secret government official, Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys) decides to expose the coveted "Pentagon Papers" a 400 plus page study on the effects, trials, secrets and tribulations of the Vietnam war. Needless to say, this doesn't strike the fancy of the sitting President, who recently slapped The Times with an injunction for the same thing.

This forces Bradlee and Graham into a heated corner. One on end, publishing the documents would be exposing national secrets that could have extreme ramifications (among them, severe jail time). The other, is keeping quiet and letting the story blow over - or wait until someone else makes the mistake first. Bradlee, of course, wants to strike first blood and Graham - with her mighty board of Bradley Whitford and Tracy Letts - want to keep a lid on things. The culmination of which transpires in a five way phone call that is some of the best camera work and angling I've seen all year.

Liz Hannah, who is only 32 years old, has crafted a delicate screenplay that winds this whole story together. Her co-writer Josh Singer (a producer on the Best Picture winning newspaper drama "Spotlight") - also amples up the stakes whenever appropriate. There are moments when Spielberg's flare does catch up to him. You can almost tell he resists doing his signature trademarks, until he does. Dramatic closeups, intense music, and a false sense of hope. That's all fine, but it's the one area where "The Post" suffers. Whereas moments that involve Jesse Plemons as a lawyer questioning Odenkirk's character about a source (which could effectively kill the paper) are so satisfying because Spielberg just lets it play out. Another is seeing Bruce Greenwood playing Secretary of Defense, and the one with the most to lose, Robert McNamara telling Graham how Nixon will use the power of the presidency to take her paper down.

At one point during the film, one of the character shouts "I hope this doesn't happen again" - and you could hear the reaction in the crowd of spectators. Much like in the newsroom, Spielberg directed this film with a sense of urgency (it had a turnaround period of six months). But arguably one of the best parts of the film is how Spielberg used real archival phone calls between the President and his staff during the whole ordeal. Hearing Nixon completely denounce the media doesn't sound as shocking in today's world as I'm sure it did back then. He also was held a tad bit more accountable.

In retrospect, "The Post" passess a tricky test that some historical dramas fail to capitalize on. It makes us understand that decisions, which have since been validated by the lens of history, were difficult ones to make in the moment. Spielberg helps us see how everything trickled together. Because anyone can search the story and how it came to be, but if you want to make a lasting impression, you've got to hit audiences with the facts. Beneath all the chatter of typewriters, men in suits, and the cigarette smoke - Graham and Bradlee made history together (and Streep and Hanks are electric). "The Post" should send a strong message about the resilience of the media today, and, most importantly, freedom of the press still exists. As heavy handed as that could be to some, one thing is for certain: this movie isn't fake news. B+ 

 

 

 

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