Movie Review: The Post

Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks fight the power in Steven Spielberg's '70s journo-drama.

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The Post
Twentieth Century Fox

The Post doesn't do the one key thing that director Steven Spielberg apparently hoped it would. In Spielberg's view, the 1971 attempt by the Nixon Administration to prevent The New York Times and The Washington Post from publishing the purloined Pentagon Papers was analogous to Donald Trump's hostile mockery of the mainstream press of today. But the leaking of the Pentagon Papers—a damning RAND Corporation analysis of 22 years of U.S. interference in Southeast Asia—was seen as a major First Amendment issue by the two newspapers, framed as a violation of the Espionage Act by the administration, and ultimately had to be adjudicated by the Supreme Court. (The newspapers won.) Trump hasn't attempted anything like this (yet); and it should also be noted that he's not the only American mocking the press these days.

So Spielberg's intention to make a chiming connection between that era and this one doesn't hold up. What he has produced instead is a rather old-fashioned movie about constitutional idealism—a big-league-journalism drama that inevitably lacks the thrills of the more sinister Watergate classic, All the President's Men.

Which is not to say that The Post is a bad movie. Being a Spielberg film, it has the gratifications of a seamlessly well-made feature. And it's so deftly edited that it often feels thrilling as it wings along through its talk-centric story. Best of all, it has Meryl Streep, giving one of her master-class performances as the late Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham, who was prepared to sacrifice her paper on the altar of freedom of the press. Graham was a diffident and insecure woman: her father had left the Post to her husband, Philip, rather than to his own daughter—who wound up running the paper, to the dismay of its all-male board, only after Philip's suicide. Streep's great accomplishment here is to compel our attention—by the subtlest of means—as this initially submissive woman slowly blossoms into the person who was strong enough to make the most important decision in her paper's history.

The rest of the cast is very fine: Tom Hanks as Post executive editor Ben Bradlee (the role played by Jason Robards in All the President's Men); Bob Odenkirk as indefatigable reporter Ben Bagdikian, who enabled the Post to elbow its way into the Pentagon Papers story after The New York Times initially broke it; Michael Stuhlbarg as Times managing editor Abe Rosenthal, another First Amendment warrior; and Bruce Greenwood, who portrays Robert McNamara, a conflicted Secretary of Defense during the Vietnam years, with shining sensitivity.

Spielberg sketches in the story's background with brisk efficiency. He starts in 1966, with Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys), a RAND Corporation "observer," moving through a Vietnam jungle along with the U.S. troops with whom he is embedded. Ellsberg has become familiar with the scaffolding of lies upon which the Vietnam debacle has been built, and he is now completely opposed to the war. He steals and copies part of a voluminous Pentagon analysis of the long-running conflict—a story rife with rigged elections, covert operations, and Geneva Convention violations—and makes it available to a Times reporter.

Spielberg has Bradlee becoming aware that something big is up at the rival paper for the wispiest of reasons (he saw the Times's Rosenthal looking "mighty smug"). Maybe it did happen that way, but it's not persuasive as presented here. Nor is Bradlee's impulsive decision to dispatch a young staffer to the Times building in New York to just hang around and report back on what he hears or sees. (As it happens, he does see something.)

The Post will probably be popular among media people—it's about them. The movie isn't any kind of masterpiece, though. Spielberg shot it very quickly while still working on his next film, Ready Player One, and there are a few parts, especially toward the end, that might have benefitted from further thought. (For instance, the scene in which Graham descends the steps of the Supreme Court in triumph while a crowd of young women gazes at her in goopy adoration.) But the picture has some memorable scenes, too, chief among them the ones in which Bradlee contemplates the shifting shadows of journalistic morality. (The real Bradlee was a weekly White House dinner guest during the Kennedy years.) And Sarah Paulson, who has a small role as Bradlee's wife, Tony, has a resonant moment when she explains to her husband that he's no hero for pushing Graham to publish the Pentagon papers. He has nothing to lose, she says: he'll always be acclaimed, and can always get another job. Graham, a woman alone in a disapproving man's world, is risking everything.

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  1. If it were any other subject, it would be mighty tempting. But I just saw some headline about Hanks and Streep saying they would not participate in screening this at the White House, and my interest in watching Hollywood and the WaPo go all 69 went down even more.

    I don’t think I will ever forget Meryl Streep telling Hollywood that they are the real artists, and that martial arts are no such thing. She’s a fine actress, but when the ego is layered on as thick as Tammy Faye Bakker …..

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  2. it should also be noted that he’s not the only American mocking the press these days

    If by “not the only one” you mean “almost half the country”.

    http://www.politico.com/story/…..oll-243884

    1. Almost half the country is dumber than average.

      Add backwater religious schooling, resentment of successful people and communities, and vestigial bigotry, and . . .

      Carry on, clingers.

  3. Something tells me this is basically an Aaron Sorkin movie.

  4. This movie is about an administration prosecuting journalists reporting on leaked intelligence? Seems like it’s as much a few years too late as it might be too early.

    1. Funny how this movie didn’t come out while the previous administration was actively prosecuting whistleblowers, intercepting reporters’ communications, etc.

  5. Isn’t this the one Tom Hanks said he wouldn’t go see?
    He should know.

  6. “The Post doesn’t do the one key thing that director Steven Spielberg apparently hoped it would. In Spielberg’s view, the 1971 attempt by the Nixon Administration to prevent The New York Times and The Washington Post from publishing the purloined Pentagon Papers was analogous to Donald Trump’s hostile mockery of the mainstream press of today.”

    Can this really be true? This script must have been written in 2016, if not earlier. The movie probably shot last year or maybe it wrapped this year. Then there is editing and all the other post production work that has to be done before release. I’ve seen this sort of thing said about other movies, i.e. about what statement it’s trying to make, but I find it hard to believe that production time-lines can could allow for such contemporary editorializing.

    1. The speed with which this movie was turned around has been part of its promotion. Spielberg announced it last March, and completed it last month.

      1. Bezos saw the value of his investment slipping so he asked his buddies in Hollywood to make a propaganda film quickly.

    2. Timeline here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Post_(film) under Production

      Rookie screenwriter somehow gets her script into Amy Pascal’s hands who buys it in October 2016 when Hillary had an over 9000% chance of ascending to the Iron Throne. But if there’s any fairy tale the Left loves to tell and hear more than Bold Journalists Speaking Truth To Power (Especially Nixon), it’s hard to think of what that is.

      Spielberg had an opening in his schedule and say this story as a perfect rallying point for the #RESISTance because Trump was already building the camps and rail lines for Shoah 2: Electric Boogaloo (or something) and rounded up his bestest pals to make another science-fiction fantasy film about nostalgia for decades-gone cultural events, this time without the Iron Giant and a bazillion dollars worth of VFX work.

      Filming started in May 2017 in secret from Trump Death Troopers who were dumping bodies of actors and journalists in mass graves (or something) and just like the clandestine newsreels from The Man in the High Castle, Spielberg has slipped The Post out of his hidden lair to bask in acclaim and awards from his fellow freedom fighters because the WaPo will prevent democracy from dying in darkness. Or something.

  7. I watched that hbo documentary on Ben Bradlee where they essentially admitted he was jfk’s stenographer. But it was all ok because Camelot.

    1. I watched the trailer to Chappaquiddick yesterday. You might enjoy that a bit more.

      1. It was fuckin’ hilarious.

  8. If there is a story I am less interested in seeing on film than the Media’s long running efforts to bring down Richard Nixon for doing pretty much exactly what his two (Democrat) predecessors had done with the media’s fawing approval, I can’t think of it offhand. I’n not a Nixon fan. He seems to have been a moderately revolting human, a statist swine, and many other bad things. But the media didn’t bring him down for any of those flaws. They beought him down because he had the nerve to win an election against their selected Darling, Helen Douglas, as nasty an unrepentant Stalinist as you might care to avoid.

    1. I never understood the lefts hatred of Nixon since he tried to do everything the left wants done, including healthcare, but i think then has now it has nothing to do with what they do but the party they serve

      1. Yep. Truthfully, the politics and policies of Nixon and JFK weren’t very far apart from each other. Heck, they were both even staunch and dedicated anticommunists and anti-Soviet Union.

        In addition to their parties, I think a lot of it had to do with the fact that Kennedy was a Harvard-educated Washington insider, and Nixon was an outsider who went to Whittier College. Many on the left would prefer it if only Harvard and Yale graduates were able to make decisions on anything.

        1. It really comes down to the Senate election he won against Helen Gahagan Dougals. Her reputation as an innocent victem of his nasty politics has been carefully protected by the Left, but digging a little deeper finds that she was a member of the Stalinist group in Hollywood, never recanted, and was generally an archtypical Liberal Intellectual Radical Progressive. JFK donated to Nixon’s campaign to defeat her, because he thought keeping her out of the Senate was morimportant than party politics.

          It’s one of the few things JFK did of which I approve.

          From that election on, the Left was out to ‘get’ Nixon.

        2. The left wants to have decisions made by Harvard and Yale (and Berkeley, and Columbia) graduates.

          The right wants to have decisions made by Liberty and Regent (and Hillsdale and Ouachita Baptist) graduates.

          No wonder the left has been winning for a half-century, and seems destined to prevail for so far as human eyes can see ahead.

  9. maybe someone can correct me but weren’t the pentagon papers introduced into congress by a congressman while seated in office, so that he couldn’t be prosecuted. thus making them public, so no one had to steal the papers and the real brave person was the congress person not the media.

  10. So Spielberg’s intention to make a chiming connection between that era and this one doesn’t hold up.

    Yet that won’t stop some in the media from claiming that it does and Trump’s totes Nixonhitler.

  11. For instance, the scene in which Graham descends the steps of the Supreme Court in triumph while a crowd of young women gazes at her in goopy adoration.)

    “Goopy adoration?” Show some class, Loder.

  12. Which is not to say that The Post is a bad movie, writes Kurt Loder.

    It only means it is bad propaganda.

  13. Meryl Streep the rape enabler?

    1. Meryl “I’d Have Gladly Held That Girl Down For Roman If It Got Me More Camera Time At The Oscars” Streep.

  14. Screw both of these leftists. I do think Tom Hanks is a great actor, probably the best of my generation – his performance in Saving Private Ryan was truly remarkable. But since he started cavorting on yachts with Osama and totally embracing the left, I have lost any interest in seeing his films. Never could stand “tears on command” Streep.

    1. Both have done good work, and I refuse to stop watching a good actor because their politics make no goddamned sense. I don’t expect actors to make sense, I expect them to emote.

      I avoid Jane Fonda films because she CAN’T act her way out of a wet paper bag. Her father’s toenail clippings have more acting talent.

      Sadly, decent actors often develop political dementia toman extent that it ruins their natural ability. Danny glover went that way.

  15. Best of all, it has Meryl Streep, giving one of her master-class performances

    Oh, gag. I have found Streep insufferable to watch since long before she started beclowning herself politically.

  16. This is total baby boomer bait, I bet it wins Oscars for being so important

  17. Spielberg fellating the legacy media.

    1. They need it. They are hurting badly. Bezos wants something for the money he spent on the WP

  18. Thank Heavens Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep exist to tell us Americans how to think about our own history and culture. They are legends in their own minds …..

  19. At this point, The Post could be three hours of animals shitting on a picture of Trump and it would win every single award you can put on a mantle. I’ll skip it.

  20. Half the country is gone dump here

  21. Yawn. Hollywood still doesn’t get it. How about telling the story of the MSM’s long, slow decline into an arm of the Democratic Party?

  22. The picture has some memorable scenes…
    run 3

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