Friday, January 26, 2018

The Post *** (2017)

Rushed into production in response to the 2016 election and the anti-democratic rhetoric of the incoming administration, Steven Spielberg's The Post is the right movie for the time. One could view it as a prequel to All The President's Men, a love letter to a vibrant and brave print media. Like Darkest Hour, the film emphasizes how history could've unfolded differently if certain people had made different decisions. An all star cast shines, with Meryl Streep towering above all in one of her best performances. In saying that, The Post looks and feels more like an above average TV movie, still worthwhile despite being a bit too on the nose at times.

The year is 1971 and Nixon Administration is desperately trying to achieve "peace with honor" in Vietnam. During the 1960s the Pentagon put together a "secret history" of the war known as the Pentagon Papers, detailing American involvement there since the 1940s. Defense Department official Daniel Ellsberg leaked the classified history to the media, and evaded the administration's attempt to discredit him by breaking into his psychiatrist's office. Nixon tried to stop the release of the documents and the case went to the Supreme Court.

Meryl Streep stars as Katherine Graham who became the publisher of the Washington Post after the death of her husband. Often the lone woman in conference rooms filled with arrogant and opinionated men, she had to find the strength to stand up for herself. These scenes play well, as Spielberg emphasizes Graham's point of view. Tom Hanks plays Bill Bradley, a role he could probably play in his sleep, as the grizzled editor and chief of The Washington Post. Bob Odenkirk takes a dramatic turn as the reporter who made contact with Ellsburg. 

Newspaper movies are a genre onto themselves and there have been quite a few good ones over the years. The Post does not refrain from the cliches, meeting deadlines and countless moments of truth, but Spielberg's expert direction and the sincere performances of the cast win the day. Whatever one thinks of the media, robust newspapers are a check against a budding authoritarianism.

John Williams provided a restrained score in a film more about talk than action, which doesn't necessarily play to Spielberg's strength as a filmmaker. Still, there's enough energy and period flavor keep the film afloat and relevant. 

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