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THE POST (2017) review

January 4, 2018



written by: Liz Hannah and Josh Singer
produced by: Steven Spielberg, Kristie Macosko Krieger and Amy Pascal
directed by: Steven Spielberg
rated: PG-13 (for language and brief war violence)

runtime: 116 min.

U.S. release date: December 22, 2017, January 5, 2018 (limited) & January 12, 2018 (wide)


Last year, Steven Spielberg returned to family-friendly summer movies with “The BFG”, but based on its reception, it seems families have moved on from fairy tale fantasies based on children’s books. With his latest, “The Post”, the director returns to historical features, to which he’s found much success (from “Schindler’s List” to “Bridge of Spies”) for a specific moment in American journalism that led to a struggle for free speech and a quest for justice. It’s a challenge to turn a drama that revolves around journalists and newspapers into a thriller, but Spielberg accomplishes just that, proving the iconic filmmaker can deliver the type of quality film he’s known for when he’s working with a solid cast and strong material.

“The Post” may be a movie set in 1971, but it doesn’t take long to see the relevance of the story and how it can sadly be applied today. It’s a bit on-the-nose sometimes with its messages, but I was surprised at how invested I was in the story, since going in I was skeptical that a movie on The Pentagon Papers could hold my interest.

Spielberg doesn’t just hold a viewer’s interest here, he captures it right from the start by dropping the audience in the middle of a jungle melee during the Vietnam war. It immediately brings to mind how immersive Spielberg’s battle sequences can be. With the help of his frequent cinematographer Janusz Kaminski (who’s worked on all of Spielberg’s films since 1993’s “Schindler’s List”, for which he won an Oscar), the director thrusts viewers into the cacophonous chaos of war – something you don’t expect if you think you know the kind of movie you signed up for – as bullets zing and explosions fling soldiers.

As the fog of war lifts, the camera gradually focuses on military analyst Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys) who can be seen furiously scribbling down in a notebook. He’ll prove to play an integral role in the whole Pentagon Paper fiasco. When a disillusioned Ellsberg is stateside, we see that he’s been involved in a compilation of documents that prove the government has systematically lied to the American public for decades in order to perpetuate and continue the war in Vietnam. There are the Pentagon Papers and copies are made for and clandestinely distributed to the New York Times and the Washington Post.



During this time, the Post is in financial dire straits. The paper’s owner, Kay Graham (Meryl Streep), is wrestling with whether or not to offer public shares of the company on the stock exchange, so the whole thing doesn’t fold altogether. Her Editor-in-Chief Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) has been struggling with landing a story that will push the paper to the top and when he is presented with the Pentagon Papers by one of his writers, Ben Bagdikian (Bob Odenkirk), he presents the opportunity to Graham. With her own public offering deadline approaching, Graham is hesitant to print the detailed information in the Papers, since her friend Robert McNamara (Bruce Greenwood) is mentioned throughout and the possible legal issues, not to mention the Nixon Administration just slapped an injunction against the Times when it’s discovered that they’re about to do the same thing Bradlee is contemplating. With the buzz in the newsroom increasing and multiple pressures mounting for Graham and Bradlee, the decision to release the groundbreaking Papers, despite the ramifications involved, looms large.

Of course, the leaked Vietnam report from the Department of Defense was printed in the Post or there wouldn’t be a movie about it. But the real question may be why there is a movie about it – or better yet, why is it coming out now? Well, timing is everything and it makes sense that Spielberg jumped at the opportunity to bring the screenplay from Josh Singer (no stranger to newspaper drama, having penned “Spotlight“) and Liz Hannah to the big-screen, while his next feature “Ready Player One” was in post production, considering how relevant the story is to the headlines of 2017. “The Post” tackles topics such as freedom of the press, misogyny (and discrepancies related to) in the workplace and the government’s involvement in squashing incriminating truths. Indeed, if it happened before, it could happen again.

Even if the the movie’s topics and themes are a bit on-the-nose at times, Spielberg’s cast maintain the audience’s interest throughout, livening up the script with palpable earnestness. While Streep and Hanks are the two “names” in the lead roles, “The Post” has a rich ensemble of actors who fill-out the rest of the cast, providing a lived-in authenticity to their roles, regardless of size. Odenkirk and Greenwood are especially solid, but the great Tracy Letts (who’s had a tremendous year with his work in “Lady Bird” and “The Lovers”) as Graham’s advisor is typically great as well, as is Michael Stuhlbarg as Abe Rosenthal. The rest of the cast consists of great character work from the likes of Alison Brie, Carrie Coon, David Cross, Jesse Plemons, Bradley Whitford, and Zach Woods.





“The Post” finds Spielberg reuniting with Hanks for the fifth time and he’s typically good, but the standout here is Streep. They have five Oscars between the two of them and it seems like every year they get nominated for a role in any given movie they’re in that year. That’s what it seems like, but it’s just not true. I know, we get tired of hearing how great Hanks and Streep are, but it really all depends on the material they’re working off of and the director at the helm of the project they’re attached to. Hanks wasn’t all that earlier this year in the lackluster “The Circle” and although Streep was great in last year’s “Florence Foster Jenkins”, moviegoers and cinefiles rolled their eyes when she earned her twentieth Oscar nomination.

That being said, both actors deliver some fine performances here, reminding us why they’re movie stars, but it’s Streep you’ll remember. Hanks portrays Bradlee as resilient and crusty, willing to go to war against the White House, but it’s Streep who has more to work with as Graham. She plays a character who is doubted and second-guessed by the men around her at every turn and has to deal with her own feelings of helplessness regarding her future and reputation, gradually getting a firm grasp for what it will take to her family-owned paper alive. Streep and Hanks are great together, but Hanks and Spielberg are quite aware when to just sit back and allow Streep to quietly live and breathe Graham, allowing audiences to appreciate her character’s development.

The movie serves as something of a prequel to “All the President’s Men”, Alan J. Pakula’s classic political thriller from 1976 – and if you’ve never seen that classic, it’s as good a place as any to go after watching “The Post”.

What surprised me the most about the movie is how enthralling it is visually, something I never would’ve suspected going in considering the subject matter. Spielberg and Kaminski use mostly handheld cameras to follow the characters, but they are just as enthralled with the machinations of the printing room, and in covering the physical process of getting a paper printed with such energy, it becomes a fascinating experience for the viewer.

Inevitably, with this being a Spielberg film, it will be ranked and filed amongst his other films (something I find unnecessary) and some may find “The Post” to suffer from a familiar sense of the director’s trademark manipulation and self-importance. That may be, but it never feels overwhelming nor does it deter from the compelling story or intriguing characters. “The Post” works best as a noble period piece, yet sadly there’s no doubt a story that pits journalism vs. government isn’t relevant to our present situation, making it much more prescient that anyone should want it to be.





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