The Post (2017)

  • Time: 115 min
  • Genre: Biography | Drama | History
  • Director: Steven Spielberg
  • Cast: Tom Hanks, Meryl Streep, Alison Brie, Sarah Paulson

Storyline:

A cover-up that spanned four U.S. Presidents pushed the country’s first female newspaper publisher and a hard-driving editor to join an unprecedented battle between journalist and government.

5 comments

  • In 2017’s The Post (my latest review), Steven Spielberg opens the film with a combat sequence that is brief and all too pedestrian. That’s surprising seeing that this is the same guy who shot the brutal, beaches of Normandy stuff in Saving Private Ryan.

    Anyway, cut to 1971 where the publisher and executive editor of The Washington Post risk their livelihood to put out the Pentagon Papers. These Pentagon Papers are classified documents chronicling America’s involvement in the Vietnam War. In a hurried and glossed over two hours, I give you the true account of Steven Spielberg’s underwhelming and underdeveloped “Post”.

    So OK, wanna see Steve’s most self-serious and most pretentious flick to date? Just pony up six to ten dollars at any local theater (or don’t after you read “Post’s” short rounded assessment).

    The Post, which has a sort of held back film score by legend John Williams, is clearly Steven Spielberg rushing to put out any type of material he can for the veritable Academy Awards season. He’s clamoring and he knows that Oscar voters always surrender to his holier-than-thou groove.

    With his “Post”, I was obviously reminded of 1976’s All the President’s Men (just look at Ben Bradlee’s desk setting which appears to be identical). Here’s the thing though: Spielberg fails to generate the type of numbing atmosphere and/or paranoid tension that Alan J. Pakula did back in ’76.

    “Post”, despite failing to garner my utmost recommendation, still has one of the best casts of any movie this year. I’m talking leads played by Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep, co-stars in the form Bradley Whitford and Bruce Greenwood, and side characters portrayed by Bob Odenkirk and Sarah Paulson. These are all decent troupers yet Spielberg doesn’t handle them well. He lets everyone wink into the camera while they give off the sense of being increasingly irksome. There are too many unworkable, Spielbergian moments here and not enough workable, Hanksian moments. The whole experience of the candidly talky scenes is just plain awkward.

    In conclusion, Spielberg as always tries his darnedest to recreate a period of long days past. This is evident in The Post. “Post” has a sheeny look, an accurate attention to detail, and a 70’s time setting that’s just palatable enough. If the Academy does honor Steven next Tuesday, it will be because The Post is well, historically significant. For me, it doesn’t matter either way. “Post” might be Stevie boy’s weakest effort since 1991’s Hook. That’s not good. Rating: 2 stars.

    Rating: 2 out of 4 stars

    Check out other reviews on my blog: http://www.viewsonfilm.com

  • (RATING: ☆☆☆½ out of 5 stars)

    GRADE: B-

    THIS FILM IS RECOMMENDED.

    IN BRIEF: A well made but far too manipulative film about journalism and governmental corruption.

    SYNOPSIS: The story of the Pentagon Papers and the power of the press.

    RUNNING TIME: 1 hrs., 56 mins.

    JIM’S REVIEW: History seems doomed to repeat itself. Steven Spielberg’s political drama, The Post, becomes a cautionary tale about the value of the freedom of the press and its battle against an unhinged president, a polarizing scandal, deceptive governmental policies and cover-ups. The story may have taken place back in the 1970’s but its 20th century subject matter is Textbook 2017. With cries of “fake news” and “leftist media” heard today, one forgets the power of the fifth estate and its fight against governmental conspiracies and corruption. A lesson to be learned and, in Mr. Spielberg’s skilled hands, one expects a film of great importance.

    The Post isn’t. It pales in comparison with other newspaper-based tales like the far superior Tom McCarthy’s Spotlight, Alan J. Pakula’s All the President’s Men, Billy Wilder’s Ace in the Hole, or Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane. Granted, that is some tough competition, but expectations run high with this film and its accomplished director. While there are some strong moments, The Post never quite achieves its lofty goal. It is an earnest but standard political gab-fest.

    The film has a “ripped from today’s headlines” vibe, even though our story takes place in 1971. Classified document have been stolen by journalist Daniel Ellsberg and about to be made public that the U.S. government systemically lied about the Vietnam War. The stage is set and after a rather slow beginning and too much exposition, the film finally gets to its main plot: the possible publishing of the confidential Pentagon Papers and the issue of revealing their contents to a deceived American public. (For roughly 20 years and under the reign of six presidents, from Harry Truman to Gerald Ford, the war will rage on, amid violent protests and the forced resignation of Richard M. Nixon.)

    Per normal, Mr. Spielberg’s direction is solid, although he continually overstates his liberally-gauged message of equal rights for women and the costly struggle over the freedom of the press vs. governmental cover-ups. The film tells its significant story and builds to its ultimate conclusion, one that may not have been the same results if addressed in today’s political environs with 2017’s divisive Congress and its conservative-leaning Supreme Court. And it’s that particular theme that is the real reason for the film: to relate our past with our present and hope for a better future.

    The Post is an admirable attempt, a crucial history lesson that could have had more impact if the screenplay by Liz Hannah and Josh Singer took more risks and layered its story with more convincing characters and tension. Instead, it settles for conventional storytelling and endless political debates that become monotonous and predictable, especially if one is aware of the outcome.

    But Mr. Spielberg supplies the necessary craftsmanship to create enough interest in his politically tinged story.  He casts his film very well and crafts his narrative with enough visual images that keep his action moving. (A wonderfully edited sequence shows the actual printing of the newspaper article with its old-fashioned typesetting machines, passionate editing staff, and the manual labor needed to start the presses rolling.) The production design by Rick Carter is exceptional in its period flavor. Janusz Kaminski’s cinematography is quite memorable, and the film’s strong costumes by the reliable Ann Roth add to the authenticity of the movie.

    But reality-wise, the film is let down with its heavy-handed message, granted one that I personally endorse, as it repeatedly preaches to the choir.  Subtlety is not this film’s forte, as in a scene where Katharine Graham (Meryl Streep), owner of the Washington Post newspaper, leaves the courthouse as the multitude of women outside stand in awe as the crowd parts like the Red Sea. So manipulative and contrived.

    The two leads are fine. Ms. Streep plays Ms. Graham as a cautious and savvy lady. The actress looks the part and brings to her role interesting mannerisms, nervous tics and calculated stares, to show this woman to be more intelligent and courageous than expected. (In case one doesn’t notice her bravery, it is expressed in stirring speeches by other minor characters. Again, subtle…not.) Tom Hanks plays his role effectively, but his screen persona as the All-American hero seems mismatched with the actual gruff and harsh-spoken editor, Ben Bradlee. This character, as written, has been so homogenized and sanitized that it becomes a grave injustice to this great crusader of the First Amendment.

    Other actors lend their talents in supporting roles that spout the political views of their characters which come off as more grandstanding than believable dialog. Still, the fine ensemble includes Bob Odenkirk, Bruce Greenwood, Tracy Letts, Matthew Rhys, Sarah Paulson, and Bradley Whitford. A talented A-cast, no doubt, but they are given B material.

    Still, The Post is a timely achievement, worth seeing as an historical testament to our much aligned press. The film has much to say, and much to be heard. But, for me, it remains too much talk and not enough genuine action.

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  • “We can’t have an administration dictating to us our coverage just because they don’t like what we print about them.” So sayeth Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks), editor-in-chief of The Washington Post, and those words serve as the beating heart of Steven Spielberg’s The Post, an unabashed chest-thumper of a film that reminds viewers why journalism, decency and the questioning of authority are as vital today as they were during the time the film is set.

    That time would be 1971, though the film begins five years earlier as State Department military analyst Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys) accompanies American troops in Vietnam to document the war’s progress for Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara (Bruce Greenwood). Though Ellsberg expresses that the war is hopeless, McNamara spins it for the press and the American people saying that “military progress has exceeded expectations.” Years later, as a civilian working for the Rand Corporation, Ellsberg decides to photocopy 7,000 pages of classified documents detailing the progress of the Vietnam War, dating as far back as the Truman administration. These documents would come to be known as The Pentagon Papers, and the fight to publish them despite repeated threats from the Nixon administration form the narrative of the film.

    Bradlee is one of the main players and, if the name rings a bell for avid moviegoers, it is because Jason Robards won an Oscar portraying Bradlee in All the President’s Men, still the benchmark for films about journalism and to which The Post functions as an unofficial prequel. Robards cut an indelibly formidable yet laconic figure, as if a cowboy were incarnated as newspaperman, but that breviloquent ease was commanding in the face of all the hustling and bustling. With Hanks, Bradlee is brisk and impatient, described as a pirate and plunderer, and always thirsting for a story that could establish his paper on equal footing with the much-respected New York Times and, by extension, burnish his reputation. Yet it is the Times that gets the scoop when Ellsberg decides to leak the documents and Bradlee, infuriated that he’s been scooped, is even more resolved to stop reading the news and start reporting it.

    In contrast to Bradlee’s bristling fervour, there is the intelligent but unsure Katharine Graham (Meryl Streep), newspaper heiress who has found herself at the helm only because her husband committed suicide years earlier and now has to contend with boardrooms of men, who have the power to make or break her family’s paper. Though she, more than any of her advisors, knows that “quality and profitability go hand in hand” – in other words, people buy the newspapers they trust the most and whose reporting is excellent and trustworthy – her uncertainty about her ability to lead allows her voice to be drowned out by the men on her team, whether it be Bradlee or advisors such as the blustering Arthur Parsons (Bradley Whitford) and the more sympathetic Fritz Beebe (Tracy Letts).

    When the White House obtains a court injunction to halt the Times from publishing any more articles about the Pentagon Papers, Bradlee seizes upon the opportunity to report on what he recognises as vital documents in American history. Furthermore, as he argues to the reluctant Graham, they have to hold the administration accountable for their lies because who else will? She counters that she has no issues holding anyone, including her friend McNamara, accountable – but how can they do it when they won’t even have a newspaper? Even if they somehow could, they could face time in prison, risking their careers and reputations, not to mention the existence of the Post itself. Yet, as Bradlee exhorts, “The only way to protect the right to publish is to publish.”

    There’s a great deal to be savoured in The Post – Spielberg’s masterful sense of pacing and storytelling; the expertise in which the film is pieced together from the production design to the costuming to the overlapping dialogue; the superlative work done by everyone in the supporting cast; and, of course, the performances of Hanks and Streep. The latter is especially brilliant – the scene in which she makes the fateful decision to publish and the subsequent moment where she finally finds her voice and uses it are nothing less than exhilarating, superbly demonstrating how beautifully Streep can gather and control momentum.

    It’s a huge credit to The Post that it’s a seamless companion piece to All the President’s Men, and a testament to All the President’s Men that, despite being released 42 years ago, it remains as fresh and modern as ever and continues to be a rallying cry that, now more than ever, freedom of the press is essential and that excesses of power must be called out and admonished.

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  • Spielberg opens with a Vietnam war scene, automatic rifles blazing to a CCR soundtrack. That not only sets the period but reminds us this is a war film. Publishing the Pentagon Papers was a wartime act — to stop America’s unnecessary wasting of lives in Vietnam.
    More to the point, we are still in that war — resisting a Republican president bent upon suppressing the free press and stifling his critics, especially those who expose his lies. Of course the Nam lies told by the governments of Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon pale beside Trump’s 2,000 lies exposed in just his first year in office. The beat goes on.
    Like the best history, this addresses the time the film is made as much as the time in which it is set. That is, its truth extends beyond its period and catches a continuing verity: US governments — and they are not alone —lie to advance their cause, to protect themselves, regardless of the cost in civilian lives and the violation of America’s famed democratic principles. In this respect the film is about 2018 as much as 1971. It makes Kay Graham and Ben Bradlee models for our time.
    The film seems accurate in its general plot lines. Nixon tried to prosecute the NY Times for publishing the secret papers smuggled out by the idealist Daniel Ellsberg. The Times thus silenced, the Washington Post stepped into the breach to publish more stories themselves. The Supreme Court supported the press 6-3, a split we can’t reasonably expect of today’s Right-biased Supremes.
    The major characters — Graham, Bradlee, Robert McNamara, Ellsberg — also ring true. Whether or not they made the speeches given them here, their deeds and their significance are consistent.
    Graham’s isolation — a widow standing against a Board of smug white men, indeed a government of white men — may be emphasized to advance the current assertion of women’s rights. That’s fair. So too the little girl’s initiative selling lemonade, the abused and admiring Latina intern, Bradlee’s wife’s separate life as an artist, and especially Kay’s triumphant stride away from the Supreme Court through a mob of reverent women, tacitly thankful for her liberating example. Graham’s valour justifies that elaboration.
    The film draws on two other popular genres, as well as the war film. Graham’s and Bradlee’s stubborn idealism harkens back to the James Stewart standards, Mr Smith, Mr Deeds, and all the other earnest heroes struggling through a morass of self-service and corruption to reaffirm America’s defining principles of freedom and equality. That’s the America that has to be recovered to make her “great again.”
    Spielberg also revives the great tradition of the newspaper film. The montage of newspaper front pages, the mechanics of the lino-typesetter, the literal lines of lead prose, the whirring monster presses and the trucks lighting up the dawn streets with bundles of the latest word — all that warms the cockles of any newsman’s heart. Papers may be dying, but their mythic heroism survives. Much like the theory of American democracy.
    Spielberg is a master director and here he’s working with a first-rate cast and story. Sure, it preaches to the converted. It won’t reform Trump or shoot a spine into any of his GOP enablers. But if it’s screened widely enough perhaps it will enlighten and embolden enough of the Republicans’ constituents to have some effect.

  • Landing the Hindenberg in a Thunderstorm.
    Rating: 9*.

    What a combination: Streep, Hanks, Spielberg, Kaminski behind the camera, Williams behind the notes. What could possibly go wrong?

    Nothing as it turns out. After, for me, the disappointment of “The BFG” here is Spielberg on firm ground and at the height of his game.

    It’s 1971 and the New York Times is in trouble for publishing what became known as “The Pentagon Papers”: a damning account of multiple administration’s dodgy dealings around the Vietnam War, put together by Robert McNamara (Bruce Greenwood, “Star Trek: Into Darkness”) and meant for “posterity” – not for publication! Watching from the sidelines with frustration at their competitor’s scoop are the Washington Post’s editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks, “Bridge of Spies”, “Inferno”) and the new owner Kay Graham (Meryl Streep, “Florence Foster Jenkins”, “Suffragette”). With immaculate timing, Graham is taking the paper public, so needs the newspaper embroiled in any sort of scandal like a hole in the head. But with the US First Amendment under pressure, will Graham and Bradlee put their business and their freedom at risk by publishing and being damned?

    Both of the leads play characters that are quite strikingly out of character from their normal roles.

    In a seamingly endless run of ‘kick-ass’ women in the movie driving seat, here I expected Streep to be in full “Iron Lady” mode, but in fact she starts the film as quite the opposite: nervous, timid, vascillating. For although the story is about “The Washington Post” and “The Pentagon Papers”, the real story is about Graham herself (Liz Hannah’s script is actually based on Graham’s autobiography). In many ways it’s about a woman, in a male world, overcoming her fear and finding her own voice. As has been demonstrated in many recent films (“Hidden Figures” for example) the working world for woman has changed so markedly since the 60’s and 70’s that it’s almost impossible to relate to these chavenistic attitudes. Graham is repeatedly downtrodden as “not good enough” by her underlings within earshot, and then thanks them “for their frankness”. When the women folk retire at dinner, to let the men-folk talk politics, Graham meekly goes with them. Even her father, for God’s sake, left the newspaper not to her but to her (now late) husband! It’s no surprise then that she is coming from a pretty low base of self-confidence, and her journey in the film – as expertly played by Streep – is an extraordinarily rousing one.

    Hanks, normally the guy you’d most like to invite round for dinner (@tomhanks if you happen to be reading this sir, that’s a genuine invitation… we make a mean lasagne here!) also plays somewhat outside of his normal character here. As Bradlee, he is snappy, brusque and businesslike. Although I don’t think he could ever quite match the irascibility of the character’s portrayal by Jason Robards in the classic “All the President’s Men” – who could? – its a character with real screen presence.

    The similarities with Alan J Pakula’s 1976 classic Watergate movie – one of my personal favourites – don’t stop there. The same sets that were once populated by Redford and Hoffman are gloriously reproduced with Spielberg and Janusz Kaminski delivering great tracking shots through the newsroom. (Watch out for Sacha Spielberg – daughter of Stephen and Kate Capshaw – who also turns up there delivering a package).

    The supporting cast includes Sarah Paulson (so memorable in “The Trial of O.J. Simpson”) as Bradlee’s wife Tony, Bradley Whitford (“The West Wing”, “Get Out”) and Tracy Letts (“The Big Short”) as two of Graham’s board advisors and Jesse Plemons (“The Program”, “Bridge of Spies”) as the lead legal advisor. Particularly impressive though is Bob Odenkirk (“Breaking Bad”) as Ben Bagdikian, Bradlee’s lead investigative reporter on the case: all stress, loose change and paranoia in his dealings with the leaky Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys).

    In a memorable piece of casting Richard Nixon is played by…. Richard Nixon. Although a silluohetted Curzon Dobell stalks the Oval office, the ex-president’s original phone recordings are played on the soundtrack. (There, I knew those recordings would be useful for something… thank heavens he kept them all!)

    The film also demonstrates in fascinating style the newsprint business of yesteryear. When I click a button on my PC and a beautifully laser-printed page streams out of my Epson printer, it still seems like witchcraft to me! But it is extraordinary to think that newspapers in those days were put together by typesetters manually building up the pages from embossed metal letters laboriously slotted into a frame. Brilliantly evocative.

    If Spielberg has a fault, it is one of sentimentality – something that is pointed out in Susan Lacy’s superb HBO documentary on Spielberg (something I have yet to write a review on, but if you like Spielberg you should definitely seek out). Here he falls into that trap again, with an unnecessary bedroom scene between Graham and her daughter tipping the screenplay into mawkishness. It’s unnecessary since we don’t need the points raised rammed down our throats again. It’s something repeated in a rather bizarre final scene with Graham walking down the steps of the supreme court with admiring woman – only woman – watching her. These irritations tarnish for me what could have been a top-rated film.

    But the movie is an impressive watch and older viewers, and anyone interested in American political history will, I think, love it. The film, especially with its nice epilogue, did make me immediately want to come home and put “All the President’s Men” on again… which is never a bad thing. Highly recommended.

    (For the full graphical review, please visit bob-the-movie.man.com. Thanks).

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