Published: Sat, January 13, 2018
IT | By Lester Massey

Spielberg's 'The Post' not as timely or on target as its aims

Spielberg's 'The Post' not as timely or on target as its aims

The biggest, most obvious theme is that the free press exists for the benefit of the people, not the benefit of the President, and that restrictions must not be placed on their ability to inform and educate.

Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks tend to capture lightning every time they collaborate and The Post is no exception.

The script by Liz Hannah and Josh Singer is first rate, and Spielberg and crew (including production designer Rick Carter and costume designer Ann Roth) also deserve kudos for re-creating the look and feel of the early 1970s.

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 USA involvement in Vietnam stretching back to the Truman administration.

These challenges can't completely be overcome, no matter how many times they crank up the John Williams score, and so the movie sags in the middle. Seeing those two threads intertwine in such a gripping and energetic movie, with a large cast so good that it's nearly unfair, really, is a blast.

You are relieved that Tom Hanks has finally gotten a good role.

Activist Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys, "Burnt") is disgusted at the lies that the government has told the public about the way the war is going.

You love movies about Robert McNamara. Yet, it "sent boys to die" - this they did largely to avoid the humiliation of the American defeat.

With the papers in their possession, Graham and her editor Ben Bradlee found themselves having to make a tough - and now legendary - call: To publish and risk the destruction of the company at the hands of President Nixon's goon-squad of bullies and lawyers, or to play it safe but betray the ideals of journalism and the founding fathers. Like a lot of women of that era who faced persistent sexism, Graham has internalized other men's doubts about her abilities, and is tongue-tied around them even when she's the boss. The Post and New York Times were allowed to continue to publish this material after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Nixon's attempt to stop the presses. He pursues the story with the purest, strongest force known to journalism - that of the scooped trying to scoop their scooper.

Bradlee counters, "If the government is telling us what to print, then the Washington Post has already ceased to exist".

Graham has reason to be cautious: She's in the middle of negotiations to take the family newspaper public, and she's reluctant to get on the wrong side of the White House.

While that part of the story works, especially when you see the respect Graham garners from women by film's end, the film as historical drama leaves a bit to be desired.

One of the few missteps is a sappy scene featuring the publisher and her grown-up daughter. Although she was thrust into the role (her husband died), she didn't want the ship to sink on her watch.

The supporting cast is also a collection of powerhouses: Carrie Coon, Tracy Letts, Bob Odenkirk, Bradley Whitford, Alison Brie, Bruce Greenwood and Sarah Paulson. "Show" partner David Cross.

"I'm sure I will hear about it", she said, adding, "It's a very patriotic movie, maybe he did like it and he didn't see the parallels". With just that one dialogue, she cuts his self-importance to size and raises Kay's profile, on whose decision, the entire freedom of the press now rests.

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