Entertainment » Movies

The Post

by Robert Nesti
EDGE National Arts & Entertainment Editor
Friday Jan 12, 2018
Meryl Streep in "The Post".
Meryl Streep in "The Post".  

When it comes to a perfectly calibrated film going experience, "The Post" more than delivers. Steven Spielberg's swift and stirring retelling of how the Washington Post published the Pentagon Papers and how it changed contemporary journalism in the process has both intellectual and emotional heft.

It has a felicitous feel for its period -- mostly 1971 -- and the political contentiousness of its time: Nixon is in the White House and the Vietnam War plods on while the streets are filled with protestors in love beads. It's a time when everyone smokes cigarettes, covert communications are made on pay phones and the sleek caftans worn by Katherine Graham (an impeccable Meryl Streep), the Post publisher, reek of the things Elizabeth Taylor wore in her films.

But beyond the fashions, what Spielberg and screenwriters Liz Hannah and Josh Singer do extraordinarily well is pinpoint the moment when the American post war bubble burst -- America was losing a war and didn't know how to cope with it. It is the moment when chaos seeped into all corners of the culture, even Graham's elegant townhouse, where she is seen giving dinner parties to such politicos as Robert McNamara, the former Secretary of Defense who is a prominent player in the events found in the Pentagon Papers.

Graham had became the publisher of the Post after her husband's suicide eight years before. To keep the paper solvent, she's agreed to letting ownership go public; the only caveat being that in the first week of the offering, prospective buyers can opt out if there's some sort of extraordinary event. It will never happen, Graham is told, by one of her confidantes.

But such an extraordinary thing happens when the New York Times publishes a front page expose about how America became involved and persisted in Vietnam, despite the fact that it was a losing proposition. On the same day the Times report breaks, the Post leads with a story about Tricia Nixon's wedding -- a turn of events that made Post editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) envious of its New York rival. But when the Nixon administration prosecutes the Times for publishing top secret material, the Post picks up the battle, but only if Graham agrees.

Spielberg tells this story with a terse urgency, yet there's nothing showy about the direction, which has the feel of a good HBO film. What may be most satisfying is how sober and observant it is, and how well it builds to its emotional catharsis. It also helps to have a cast like this one. Everyone, from Hanks and Streep to Sarah Paulson, Bob Odenkirk, Tracy Letts, Bradley Whitford, Bruce Greenwood, Carrie Coon and Matthew Rhys is letter-perfect. Especially funny is Michael Stuhlbarg's foppish portrayal of Bradlee's counterpart at the Times, Abe Rosenthal.

It's great to see Tom Hanks in a role that allows his acting to breathe. Far more volatile than Jason Robards, who won an Oscar playing the previous onscreen Bradlee in "All the President's Men," Hanks appears to be having fun playing this now legendary inside-the-beltway personality. (To learn more about the real-life Bradlee, catch the HBO documentary "The Newspaperman: The Life and Times of Ben Bradlee" currently airing.)

Streep skillfully embodies Graham's cultured demeanor, but also digs into her ambivalent personality, which gives her character (and the story) a tension. How she deals with the great changes occurring around her and comes into her own in the process gives the film its emotional pull.

It also underscores the subtext of feminist empowerment that is skillfully woven into the narrative, most pertinently in a missive that Tony Bradlee (Paulson) tells her husband in explaining the gravity of Graham's decision. That Streep makes her moment of choice resonate so emotionally is (again) testament to her greatness as a film actress.

Robert Nesti can be reached at rnesti@edgemedianetwork.com.


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