Steven Spielberg delivers old-school pleasures with The Post


Steven Spielberg delivers old-school pleasures with The Post

That's right. It is melodramatic and sentimental and sometimes downright corny.

Set in 1971 in Washington, D.C., Spielberg's "The Post" is based on the fascinating true story of the Pentagon Papers, a revealing and extensive series of documents that exposed backroom US involvement in Vietnam stretching back to the Truman administration. "The Post" - like "Spotlight" two years ago - respects the craft, the mission and the thrill of journalism, as well as those dedicated to carrying it out.

In THE POST, director Steven Spielberg delivers a remarkable and timely film about freedom of the press, a story set in 1971 that has striking echoes for the present.

I'm talking about Nixon.

You know, the stuff the government wasn't telling the public.

It's a crackling thriller, no matter what the headlines have to say.

Unfinished? Eastwood-ian? The astonishing thing is that while there are a few clunkers (as if a parody, the film actually opens in Vietnam to the sound of helicopters and Creedence Clearwater Revival), on the whole "The Post" is meat and potatoes Spielberg in the best possible way. Tom Hanks is Executive Editor Ben Bradlee who holds his ground when Mrs Graham tries to intervene in the nitty gritty of coverage.

This, of course, drives Bradlee nuts.

Hanks gets the best speech here about Ben's friendship with John F. Kennedy clouding his journalistic judgment, but it's Streep who has the better role as a woman steeped in the sexism of her era who listens meekly while one of her board members (Bradley Whitford) says she's not qualified to run the paper. It comes down to Graham, who must weigh the decision to publish against the real possibility that it will ruin her family's company and send her people to prison. The New York Times was the first outlet to report on the papers, after RAND Corporation military analyst Daniel Ellsberg (played by Matthew Rhys in the film) leaked the documents to them, but after The Times was temporarily banned from printing its details, The Post moved in on the story and shared all about how the government was lying to the public about the Vietnam War and the progress that was being made.

Bradlee is beside himself.

When the Times is slapped with a temporary court order preventing further disclosures, it's up to Graham and the Post, which has gotten a batch of the papers, too, to decide whether to support the Times and publish its own information.

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There's loads of name-dropping (Bradlee recalls meals with slain Prez JFK) and former defense secretary Robert McNamara (Bruce Greenwood) is a friend of Mrs Graham, a connection she refuses to exploit since he was the one who had commissioned the Pentagon Papers.

There is a typewriter in nearly every scene - Tom Hanks collects typewriters, so perhaps some of them are his - and at one point Meryl Streep's character briefly forgets the main reason she's asked to speak to her editor and says "oh, I buried the lede".

"We are in a fight and it's a fight not just about alternative facts but it's a fight for the objective truth", said Spielberg. Slowly, Graham becomes more secure in her role and Streep allows the audience to see her blossom. The supporting cast is just as strong, with fine turns by Odenkirk, Carrie Coon, Sarah Paulson, Jesse Plemons and Tracy Letts.

Though all of that happened in the early '70s, Graham was still just as resolved when she talked about that time several years later in an interview for a video series produced by Poynter in 1985.