Monday, January 8, 2018

A Reel Review: THE POST

In 1971, The New York Times and The Washington Post brought the attention of the world to what would be known as The Pentagon Papers; a large, secret volume of the history of the United States’ political-military involvement in Vietnam from 1945 to 1967. The papers revealed that the government had been lying and misleading the public for decades; including official reports on how the Vietnam War was going for the U.S. It would become an unprecedented war between journalism and government, and the decisions made leading to that battle is the story for Steven Spielberg’s THE POST.

Kay Graham (Meryl Streep), is the first female publisher of The Washington Post, which is struggling financially and about to go public on the stock market for its survival.  With investors breathing down her neck, the challenge is intensified when she and editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks), wrestle with the legal and ethical decision of publishing The Pentagon Papers, which details four Presidential administration’s involvement in Vietnam…and contradicts the official story from the government.

The thrill of THE POST lays within the hard decisions made behind the scenes, with Bradlee wrestling with legal teams over the publication of the papers, and Graham dealing with nervous investors who could possibly pull their financial support. On both fronts, the future of The Washington Post is at stake, with the publication of the damning documents holding consequences in both the stock market and the court of law.

The clock is ticking here at all times, and the pressure is on. The Washington Post is scrambling to acquire the documents and print stories, while the government has already taken The New York Times to court (they broke the story about the existence of the documents first). With government bearing down, the stakes become wide and far-reaching, but director Steven Spielberg still finds a way to make this a very human story. Graham has the biggest pressure to deal with as the first female publisher for the paper and has to prove herself in a man’s world, and her friendship with former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara (Bruce Greenwood), whom the documents do not paint in the best light, puts her in a precarious position. Bradlee on the other hand has journalistic ethics to grapple with, and his past friendship with former President John F. Kennedy has the famed editor wondering if he had been completely fair in the past. For a film with such far-reaching implications for the media and government, it’s the two main characters that drive it, and that is the true draw of THE POST as it is a very human story.

Spielberg keeps the pacing tight and the scenes full of tension and fun. Shots are meticulously framed and express that feeling of larger things bearing down on our characters. The film looks great, and John Williams’ score is superb.

Acting is excellent. Tom Hanks is a little grumbly as Bradlee, but is still a blast to watch and it seems Hanks had fun in the role. The film belongs to Streep as her character feels the pressures of the decisions she has to make, and she expresses more emotion and thought in a single glance than most actors today can express in spoken words. Another strength of the film is in its supporting cast; Bruce Greenwood, Sarah Paulson, Bob Odenkirk, Bradley Whitford, Matthew Rhys, Alison Brie, and Michael Stuhlbarg are all great.

The events of THE POST occur during the Richard Nixon administration, and the film utilizes Nixon’s old White House recordings in which the President angrily lashes out against the media and sets out to bar reporters from The Washington Post from attending White House events. It’s a startling, and on-the-nose parallel to today’s political climate, which makes THE POST a very relevant film. But politics aside, Spielberg has delivered a tight and engaging film; one that we can all learn a lot from.


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