Screenplay Written by Liz Hannah and Josh Singer
Directed by Steven Spielberg
**** (four stars)
RATED PG 13
If there is any filmmaker who is able to somehow, someway make the sound of clicking typewriters pulsate with white knuckle intensity and the images of crucial decision making can make a theater erupt in applause, that filmmaker would be none other than Steven Spielberg, the man who has created movie magic for nearly 50 years. With his latest effort, the historical docudrama "The Post," Spielberg proves again that he is not a filmmaker content to rest upon his creative laurels or his immense legacy. He is one who is endlessly inventive, curious, passionate and therefore, ferociously inspired, making his continued output more than worthy and deserving of our attention.
Now that being said, Spielberg's films as of late have been less than impressive to me. Of course, I do not believe that he is even capable of making a "bad" movie due to the enormity of his creativity and sills but even so, I was a tad underwhelmed by the likes of his more cerebral efforts "Lincoln" (2012) and "Bridge Of Spies" (2015) and his rather toothless adaptation of Roald Dahl's "The BFG" (2016), I will openly admit may have had more to do with the movie he made not at all matching up with the exceedingly more frightening, tougher, exciting movie I had made up in my head when I read that particular book. That being said, something felt a little amiss with my reactions to the films made by a person who is possibly the most influential filmmaker of my life as he was instrumental in introducing me to the wondrous magic of the motion pictures. His recent films have just kept me a bit at arms length despite their unquestionable artistry.
With "The Post," Steven Spielberg has returned with a furiously impassioned roar. Lean, taut, briskly paced while perfectly merging the cerebral and the propulsive, Spielberg has helmed his best film in years, re-confirming his status as one of our living cinematic legends. In a past interview, Steven Spielberg once remarked that if one were to gaze over his complete filmography, one could see that most of the films he has made have either taken place in the past or the future, where all the while he is commenting upon the present. "The Post" is a history lesson to be certain. But a history lesson that is as up to the minute in 2018 that it could nearly serve as a documentary!
Set in 1971, "The Post" stars Tom Hanks as Ben Bradlee, Editor-In-Chief of The Washington Post and Meryl Streep as Katherine Graham, a newspaper heiress who took over the newspaper after the suicide of her husband and is currently struggling with the balance of her life as a socialite as well as her business responsibilities as she is contemplating making The Washington Post pubic, therefore hopefully shedding the journal's "family paper" image for a wider national reach and profitability. Yet, in her simultaneous affectionate/contentious relationship with Bradlee, the twosome partially spar over the business deal, which would reward in potential greater finances that could assist or hinder the actual journalism at work, .
The Washington Post, already in then President Nixon's cross hairs to the point that they have been refused access to covering his daughter wedding, has been playing catch-up to the likes of The New York Times but their moment to grab the brass ring is evident.
The New York Times' new expose of what would be called "The Pentagon Papers," classified documents spanning three decades and four U.S. Presidents. These documents showcased how every Presidential administration since Truman was involved with the behind-the-scenes political mechanizations of what would become the Vietnam War, and how the United States government knowingly and continuously sent soldiers to fight and die while lying to the American people about our nation's prospects at winning a war that the government, again, knew was unwinnable.
The publication of some of these documents land the New York Times with a court injunction against further publication, an injunction Bradlee wishes to take full advantage of for his paper as he attempts to locate and seize the Pentagon Papers for publication in The Washington Post, risking not only an injunction and possible imprisonment for himself, his writers and Katherine Graham but also the attack of the full fury of the vengeful Nixon administration.
Steven Spielberg's "The Post" rockets through it race-against-time structure with a MASTER CLASS level of crisp direction, first class storytelling and the exceedingly gifted performances from the entire cast (MVP awards should undoubtedly go to both Bob Odenkirk and Tracy Letts for their equally outstanding work).
Conceptually (as well as taking a trip through my movie addled brain), one could conceivably think of this film as serving as a bit of a prequel to both Alan J. Pakula's classic "All The President's Men" (1976) and Ron Howard's eloquent yet sadly underseen "Frost/Nixon" (2008) and even as a companion piece to both Oliver Stone's hallucinogenic juggernaut "JFK" (1993) and his Shakespearian styled portrait of "Nixon" (1995) plus Pablo Larrain's psychological chamber piece "Jackie" (2016) to even some key elements within Spike Lee's fever dream "She Hate Me" (2004).
Even with the comparisons, "The Post" stands firmly upon its own cinematic feet and to a towering degree, as Spielberg has again taken that historical mirror to present to ourselves signifying that what is past is dangerously prologue. Within a story that concerns itself with government corruption involving the entrenched deception of the America public, a fight for 1st Amendment rights and a maniacal President of the United States more than ready and willing to rip that very Amendment to shreds for his own self-preservation and ravenous hunger for power and control, current events in our 21st century America confirm that we are long past the prologue and have been projected into a through-the-looking-glass existence where newspapers are dying, the devaluation of all news media is continuously rising and the President exists within a post-truth reality. Yet, the fight rages on.
With "The Post," Steven Spielberg presents those (and more) continuous struggles and their necessity for maintaining journalistic integrity combined with an accountability for all of our elected officials while also delivering a powerful elegy for what once was regarding the power and urgency of the print media, when hearing that snap of the morning papers was commonplace and fully desired.
Additionally, Spielberg also delivers a dire warning concerning the still turbulent relationship between journalism and big business, as the 24 hour cable news cycle has fallen into opinion politics at best, and downright sinister and politically driven propaganda at worst, all the while filling our screens with talking heads that really don't say terribly much of value, yet continue speaking in the pursuit of ratings. Just think what our news cycle would be like if all of cable news simply ceased reporting upon President Trump's every flatulent Twitter outrage, ratings be damned. Then, the news would be in control rather than the President provoking the media to follow his lead. Wag the dog indeed...
Yet, "The Post takes us back to a time period when journalists were furiously inspired to not allow public servants to dictate what could and could not be disseminated to the American public and with Tom Hanks leading the charge, how could we not feel as equally inspired and as driven as the characters surrounding him in the film?
Hanks' performance, all filled with gruff, chain smoking tenacity, is as magnetic and as effortless as we would expect. Even so, it is one that does arrive with challenging layers so as not to make Ben Bradlee too much of a Kapra-esque hero. Yet, in terms of journalism and the news, Bradlee is perfectly represented as existing upon the right side of history and his gleefulness with the thrill of the chase is palpable--in fact, the moment when he and his colleagues upon up the box containing part of the Pentagon Papers, it is presented with as much holy reverence as the opening of the Ark of the Covenant in Spielberg's "Raiders Of The Lost Ark" (1981)...but without the face melting wrath of God.
I did, however, feel that Hanks and Spielberg did rightfully inject a level of hubris to his pursuit of the truth as the consequences of the Supreme Court's decision h eld potentially dire consequences for himself and his reporters. How much of Bradlee wanted to uncover the truth for the American public and how much of Bradlee wanted to just have the scoop, thus elevating his own personal cache? In that aspect, Ben Bradlee is not entirety virtuous, and in fact, in another crucial area, he does represent being as part of the problem.
Now, if you have been regular visitors to this blogsite, you have consistently read my critical to even mocking tone directed towards Meryl Streep's ubiquity with Oscar nominations, regardless if the performance in question was truly worthy of recognition or not. Yet, with "The Post," if she is indeed nominated again, it is for a performance that showcases strength and subtlety instead of any show-boating "I AM ACTING!!" hamminess, it would be indeed more than deserved. For my money, what is depicted here is one of Streep's finest performances in some time, a deliberately paced, slow burn of a performance that provides "The Post" with its additional powerful theme of the rise of women in power in a so-called "man's world."
I did not realize that the real world Katherine Graham was the very first female publisher of a national newspaper, therefore making "The Post" a demonstrably riveting origin story as we are witness to this particular woman, in late middle age, grieving over her husband's suicide and being forced to re-invent her life in ways she most likely never truly conceived for herself.
Meryl Streep delivers a performance of growing confidence, with her own abilities and sense of power. Throughout the film, we observe Katherine Graham from her consistent asking of advice and opinions from the men that surround her life--from accountants, lawyers, political figures, and colleagues including Bradlee himself--or more often, being sidelined by those very same men regarding crucial decision making, all the way to the moments when she indeed wrestles full control--to which the audience I saw the film with burst into applause. And through Streep's unquestionable and revered skills, we can see her evolution step-by-step-by-step.
Working alongside Spielberg (it is stunning to me that these two figures have not collaborated before now) there were two moments in particular that where their cinematic powers congealed so beautifully, nailing moments in time and place so succinctly and mostly, without words. The first moment is a short scene featuring Streep as Katherine walking through a group of women into a closed office office of all men, making her the sole female present. The second moment occurs near the end of the film as Katherine quietly descends down the steps of the Supreme Court to the eyes of the public, most notably a variety of female onlookers. In those brief moments, what I saw was nothing less than the status quo being transformed and therefore, transcended. Essentially, especially in the second moment I described, we were witness to the sight of representation leading to inspiration.
The arrival of Steven Spielberg's "The Post" at this specific point in time could not have been more perfect, especially as we now live in an age when CNN feels the need to say that an apple is an apple and President Trump can denounce sheer reality, even reality as presented with his own recorded voice, image and words, with a petulant wave of "fake news." That being said, what Spielberg has presented so masterfully is not just a film about journalistic integrity, or the freedom of the press, the constitutional rights of the 1st amendment, especially when it is the duty of the news media to hold our leaders fully accountable for their actions. It is not even just a film about the empowerment and rise of women within a "man's world."
Steven Spielberg's "The Post" is a film about resistance.