December 25, 2017

CINEMA | Spielberg, Streep, and Hanks Publish 'The Post'

"We can't hold them accountable if we don't have a newspaper."
Tom Hanks Steven Spielberg | The Post

Famed director Steven Spielberg makes his best case for journalism and freedom of the press in the face of government overreach. The simply titled The Post is a rather straightforward yet stirring story of The Washington Post's efforts to publish the controversial leaked Pentagon Papers detailing several different White House administrations' well-documented lies about the Vietnam War during Nixon's second term (think of it as a sort of prequel to All the President's Men) all stylishly told in pure Spielberg-ian fashion with some extra timely urgency.

The venerable Meryl Streep stars as publishing scion Katharine Graham opposite the affable Tom Hanks as revered editor Ben Bradlee. Their on-screen relationship is superbly back-and-forth and adversarial in its professionalism. Underneath the journalistic storyline, there's a secondary layer of relevance exploring the treatment of women in the workplace. Graham is consistently ignored by her male underlings despite being the owner and publisher of the newspaper. Spielberg also slyly comments on the film's own lack of strong female characters as all the real-life players were almost entirely all older white men.

An A-list cast of supporting character actors including Bruce Greenwood (as Robert McNamara), Bradley WhitfordSarah PaulsonCarrie Coon, David CrossMichael StuhlbargJesse Plemons, and Alison Brie surround Streep and Hanks all playing real-life cohorts deftly. A gruff Tracy Letts as the Post's chairman and Graham's close advisor lends an air of additional gravitas putting the tense situation into more context. A dramatically somber Bob Odenkirk—completing the Mr. Show reunion—playing managing editor Ben Bagdikian gets the scoop, finds the source, and breaks the story.

Meryl Streep Tom Hanks Steven Spielberg | The Post

Scripted by Liz Hannah and Josh Singer, the newspaper drama is fairly matter-of-fact and procedural in tone. It details the historical events of the New York Times first publishing the stories around the secret Pentagon Papers after military analyst Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys) leaks the classified government documents about U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. The film also explores the weird symbiotic relationship between the press and politicians whose top leaders regularly socialized in mixed company.

Longtime Spielberg collaborator Janusz Kamiński's cinematography is almost too lush and nostalgic as he frames the period detail of early 1970s Washington and New York gorgeously. Spielberg eschews the boring, drab tone associated with reporting for the more romantic memories of print media. He takes the time to shoot printing presses, typewriters, and newspaper machines with a loving eye.

Spielberg, Streep, and Hanks earnestly make the case for the first amendment and the worth of risking it all on principle. It's a timely yet historical portrait of the dangers of power and the duty of news all dripping of relevance. Frankly, it's the movie we need right now in trying times. The Post is unapologetically optimistic and sentimental about its subject matter of American values told through stories within stories.

The Post opens in Vancouver on January 12th.

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