The Post

the-post-rev The Post  (2017)    20th Century Fox/Drama-Thriller    RT: 116 minutes    Rated PG-13 (language, brief war violence)    Director: Steven Spielberg    Screenplay: Liz Hannah and Josh Singer    Music: John Williams    Cinematography: Janusz Kaminski    Release date: December 22, 2017 (US, limited)/January 5, 2018 (Philadelphia, PA)    Cast: Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Sarah Paulson, Bob Odenkirk, Tracy Letts, Bradley Whitford, Bruce Greenwood, Matthew Rhys, Alison Brie, Carrie Coon, Jesse Plemons, David Cross, Zach Woods, Pat Healy, John Rue, Michael Stuhlbarg.   

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 The Post may take place in 1971 but it’s just as timely now in this era of Trump and “fake news”. In some ways, it’s encouraging to the American public in its support of a free press that was meant to serve the governed rather than those that govern. Directed by Steven Spielberg (Munich), it deals with the publication of the Pentagon Papers by the New York Times, a bold act that blew the lid off the ongoing Vietnam War and changed the face of journalism forever.

 It starts in 1965 when military analyst Daniel Ellsberg (Rhys, The Americans) walks off with thousands of top-secret government documents pertaining to the war in Vietnam. Going back about forty years, they reveal that the groundwork for the war had been laid out for years. They also tell of a study revealing that the US has no chance of winning the war which means that the government knowingly sent thousands of young men to their deaths. What’s more, our Presidents knew all this and lied to us. In June ’71, the papers were printed in the New York Times and started a public maelstrom. People were understandably outraged. Then-President Nixon was outraged too; outraged that such sensitive information was made known to the public. He filed an injunction against the Times; they weren’t allowed to print another word of the papers until the courts made a ruling.

 post posterThis is where the Washington Post gets into it. Several pages of the Pentagon Papers come into their possession. They have a shot at the story of a lifetime, one that could raise their status in the newspaper community. It couldn’t happen at a better time with the Post going public with their stock. What better way to sell shares than print a huge story. The only problem is that it could land them in jail for treason. Editor Ben Bradlee (Hanks, Philadelphia) wants to publish. It’s their duty to inform the public of government wrongdoing. Post publisher Kay Graham (Streep, The Iron Lady) has her doubts. She doesn’t want to be responsible for the demise of the newspaper her grandfather started. As if it wasn’t tough enough being a woman in a male-dominated profession, the future of her family’s legacy is at stake.

 As I watched The Post, I was reminded of two more recent situations involving government secrets and whistleblowers. I’m referring to Julian Assange publishing information about the Iraq and Afghanistan wars on WikiLeaks in 2010 and CIA computer specialist Edward Snowden handing over classified documents concerning secret global surveillance programs to three journalists in 2013. Depending on who you talk to, Assange and Snowden are either heroes or traitors. Do we the people have the right to know everything our government is doing or should some things be kept from us? This is one of the things I found myself thinking about after watching The Post. It’s a thought-provoking drama that raises some interesting questions. However, it falls short when it comes to narrative.

 As compelling as The Post is, it doesn’t get the viewer actively involved in the story like All the President’s Men or Spotlight. Whereas the viewers untangled the stories alongside the reporters in those two movies, The Post is a more passive experience. It’s merely a recounting of the facts. It doesn’t build up tension like a thriller. I’m told that Spielberg rushed this one into production; I expect it might have been better had he taken more time to develop and fine-tune it. There are several great scenes and John Williams’ score is spot-on as usual. It just doesn’t come together as well as it should with such a gifted filmmaker at the helm.

 The Post marks the first time Streep and Hanks have worked together. It’s a good pairing. Hanks turns in another fine performance as a newspaper man not afraid to make waves by telling the truth. He imbues him with just the right amount of gravitas never allowing Bradlee to become too preachy or saintly. Streep, as usual, brings her A-game with her most nuanced performance in years. I just wish the script had done a better job addressing the whole gender thing. The idea of a woman in a man’s world is touched upon at several points but never really explored in depth.

 I like how Spielberg captures a particular moment in time when a newspaper office was a busy, bustling place with ringing phones and typewriters furiously clicking away as deadlines loom near. It’s sad but the age of printed newspapers has come to an end with all the on-line news outlets. Looking at this, a horrifying thought occurred to me. What if Twitter was around in the Nixon era? Can you imagine the things that guy would post? “I am not a crook” would have gone viral in minutes and the memes it would inspire. I shudder to think. In any event, The Post is a good movie that could have been great. It’s still worth seeing.

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