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The Post Movie Review

The Post (2017) movie poster The Post

Theatrical Release: December 22, 2017 / Running Time: 116 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: Steven Spielberg / Writers: Liz Hannah, Josh Singer

Cast: Meryl Streep (Katharine Graham), Tom Hanks (Ben Bradlee), Sarah Paulson (Tony Bradlee), Bob Odenkirk (Ben Bagdikian), Tracy Letts (Fritz Beebe), Bradley Whitford (Arthur Parsons), Bruce Greenwood (Robert McNamara), Matthew Rhys (Daniel Ellsberg), Alison Brie (Lally Graham Weymouth), Carrie Coon (Meg Greenfield), Jesse Plemons (Roger Clark), David Cross (Howard Simons), Zach Woods (Anthony Essaye), Pat Healy (Phil Geyelin), John Rue (Gene Patterson), Rick Holmes (Murray Marder), Philip Casnoff (Chalmers Roberts), Jessie Mueller (Judith Martin), Stark Sands (Don Graham)

 

Steven Spielberg used to specialize in whimsical and fantastical adventures, like E.T., Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Jurassic Park. Lately, though, Spielberg has gotten away from colorful all-ages crowdpleasers and into historical adult dramas. Interestingly, domestic audiences haven't been all that enthused by his recent family-oriented adaptations, as neither the motion capture The Adventures of Tintin nor the effects-heavy The BFG really caught on in America. Meanwhile, Lincoln and Bridge of Spies turned profits on their way to Best Picture nominations. The Post is almost certain to join them.

On paper, this sounded like a project with immense potential both in terms of major awards and in commercial success. The Post lives up to that potential, telling a compelling and still relevant true story with two of the most beloved actors of our time in leading roles.

A year before the Watergate scandal forever tarnished the administration of President Richard Nixon (a situation detailed in the classic 1976 film All the President's Men), there was the issue of The Pentagon Papers. The film opens with Daniel Ellsberg (a brief yet fantastic Matthew Rhys) fighting with the United States Army in the Vietnam War. Jumping ahead past his tour of duty, Ellsberg is asked by U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara (Bruce Greenwood, sporting slicked-back hair like the real McNamara) about the status of the controversial conflict in Vietnam. When McNamara proceeds to feed the media encouraging remarks, it sets the wheels in motion for Ellsberg, a seasoned journalist, to leak classified documents. He does so to The New York Times, prompting swift and severe action from Nixon and his administration, who slap the newspaper with an injunction.

Editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) consults with publisher Katharine Graham (Meryl Streep) about publishing classified war documents in "The Post."

That legal action opens the window for the Washington Post to strike back and take a stand for the freedom of press. The Post has been struggling. Widowed publisher Katharine Graham (Meryl Streep) is in the midst of selling the paper to a group and finding it a difficult ordeal. News editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) is intrigued by the opportunity for the paper to score a big scoop when a random woman drops off a box of documents on a reporter's desk.

The delivery leads to the paper's ace reporter Ben Bagdikian (a great Bob Odenkirk) to track down Ellsberg and end up with the thousands of classified documents showing that the American administration has been lying to the world about the Vietnam War and its effectiveness.

Like Watergate and WikiLeaks, the leak itself is somewhat more interesting than the actual documents being leaked, which Spielberg and his two young screenwriters Liz Hannah and Josh Singer kind of keep at a distance. While Hannah is picking up her first theatrical writing credit, Singer is no stranger to journalism dramas, having penned the nonstarter Julian Assange biopic The Fifth Estate before rebounding with 2015's spectacular Best Picture winner Spotlight.

The compelling screenplay is one reason while The Post excels. Another is the fine cast, which complements the two top-billed heavyweights with veteran character actors like Bradley Whitford and David Cross. Newspapers in the early 1970s are the exclusive domain of white men and The Post is accurately full of them, in contrast to most diversity-championing new films. The Post isn't out to rewrite history, simply to retell it and it does so in a lively and consistently engaging fashion. Whereas the stage-adapted War Horse used history for melodrama and Spielberg's subsequent Lincoln and Bridge of Spies took pride in their monochromatic iciness, The Post embraces humanity and principles while treating them to the technical splendor that have long defined the director's films.

Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) and his Washington Post reporters gather around to watch a television news report on actions taken against The New York Times.

The Post is exquisitely photographed by Spielberg's longtime cinematographer Janusz Kaminski. It is scored, naturally, by John Williams, who is back on Team Spielberg after sitting out Bridge of Spies (he did score the swiftly-forgotten The BFG). The ambitious camerawork as well as period production design and costumes all establish this as a major motion picture with high value. But that can be said of even your least favorite Spielberg movie of the past forty years, whatever that may be. What makes The Post his best film in a long time is in the masterful way it tells this story. Lincoln mostly consisted of men talking about principles and even with the great Daniel Day-Lewis filling that title role to the tune of his third Oscar, it was a challengingly dull viewing. This time around, the principles feel more urgent and timely. The freedom of the press is in the spotlight every time President Trump takes issue with "fake news" or moves to limit or undermine coverage. But I have no desire to make this review political or to overstate the film's relevance in this regard.

The Post seems certain to draw a number of major Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Original Screenplay. Will Kaminski and Williams add to their long list of Oscar nominations earned by Spielberg collaborations? Probably. Will Streep, so appealing as a strong, sympathetic woman in a man's world, extend her record to a 21st Oscar nomination? I can't imagine a scenario in which she doesn't. Could Hanks, who remarkably hasn't been nominated since 2000's Cast Away (a race he ludicrously lost to Gladiator's Russell Crowe), end his drought as he couldn't with acclaimed performances in esteemed films like Captain Phillips and Sully? It's definitely possible, seeing how few sure contenders there are in that category that everyone seems to have prematurely decided would belong to Gary Oldman for his Darkest Hour Churchill impression. Though one of the last to be seen, The Post even seems to have a legitimate shot to win Best Picture, something that only one previous Spielberg film (Schindler's List) ever has.

Of course, you shouldn't see The Post because it wins or is nominated for awards. You should see The Post because it's an engrossing and rewarding drama told exceptionally well by a fine ensemble cast and one of the great filmmakers putting out his best work in ages.

Related Reviews:
Now in Theaters: Lady Bird Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri The Shape of Water The Disaster Artist The Darkest Hour Coco
Directed by Steven Spielberg: Bridge of Spies Lincoln War Horse Catch Me If You Can Amistad The BFG
Written by Josh Singer: Spotlight The Fifth Estate
Tom Hanks: Sully A Hologram for the King Captain Phillips Forrest Gump
Meryl Streep: Florence Foster Jenkins Doubt Julie & Julia The Iron Lady The Giver

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Reviewed December 7, 2017.



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