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Ben Bradlee: So, can I ask you a hypothetical question?
Kay Graham: Oh, dear. I don't like hypothetical questions.
Ben Bradlee: Well, I don't think you're gonna like the real one, either.
(after a beat)
Kay Graham: Do you have the Papers?
(beat as Bradlee mulls it over)
Ben Bradlee: Not yet.
A key scene between Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep as Kay Graham and Ben Bradlee.
Hello, one and all.
With 2017 over and this film only in limited release that year, it was hard to determine if this film would be in the running in my choice for the Best Films of 2017, or point in fact, the best film of last year. What a pity. Because Steven Spielberg, who was one of the premiere filmmakers of the 1970s has once again made a film that resonates from that decade and in turn, made one for our troubling times of today.
It's no secret that the main source of inspiration was the late Alan J. Pakula's 1976 masterpiece, All The President's Men, but, knowing Spielberg's eye for details and reference points, Orson Welles' Citizen Kane, and Ron Howard's The Paper all seem to be riffed by Spielberg—which, by the way, is in no way saying that Spielberg didn't bring his own creative input into the story. It's clear from the fact that he uses renowned cinematographer Janusz Kaminski, composer John Williams, co-editor Michael Kahn, and art director and designer Rick Carter in all his films, that Spielberg already had a vision poised to be told. It also seemed pretty evident that in his fifth go-round with star Tom Hanks and his second time directing Meryl Streep that he had enough super deluxe talent to get his points across. He works from a script from Liz Hannah and Josh Singer who was responsible for another crisp newspaper drama, the 2015 Oscar-winning film Spotlight.
The plot gist, well, it's for anyone who's either a pre-millennial or an actual one and for those who remember two key events in our long and tragic political history: the Vietnam War and the years before President Richard M. Nixon resigned over his knowledge, or rather, direct correlation to the theft at the Watergate offices, and his intent to cover up his involvement. In the opening, which I almost took as a blatant attempt for Spielberg to recreate the D-Day battle of Normandy in his seminal Saving Private Ryan. Instead, we get a military analyst played by Matthew Rhys doing some massive probing into the Vietnam War and its connection to the Johnson and Truman administrations. His findings are photocopied and almost submitted to a film studio for preservation and posterity. His fact-finding mission which includes copying and re-copying classified documents is sent to The New York Times, which prints the story that pretty much sealed the deal that the Vietnam War was an unwinnable war and it was being kept on probably for pure spite.
Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, and Tracy Letts in a key scene from 'The Post' (2017)
Meanwhile, over at The Washington Post, Katherine "Kay" Graham, played by the always reliable Meryl Streep, is assuming her duties as the new owner and is forced to see herself as a woman in a man's world. Her late father's the paper's owner and her husband committed suicide. She enters a meeting as the only woman who is not a secretary and is never far from being reminded of her gender as being a major crux. The only one who sees her as more of an equal is editor-in-chief Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks in a role that's sure to cement him a certain Oscar nomination for Best Actor) who is most times, her part-time confidante. The 'Times' story is soon a springboard for the bigger scoop as a few tips lead to the finding of the sealed and classified government documents with a little help from some cold calls by the Times' original source from a phone booth made by Post head reporter Ben Bagdikian (Bob Odenkirk in a pretty safe bet for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination). As quickly as you can say, "fake news", the president quickly shoots out a "cease and desist" letter to the paper warning about the dire consequences of further publishing of the documents. In almost thriller-like precision, it becomes a race against time to determine of Freedom of the Press wins out, or prison time will be the end result—and any guesses as to who holds the finger on the "yes, publish them" button?
In closing, The Post is crackerjack entertainment at its finest. A stellar film and even a somewhat return to form for director Steven Spielberg, who despite making a great film in The BFG in 2016, pretty much had found himself being criticized for not living up to the promise of greatness that he exemplified in the 1970s and 1980s. Is The Post perfect? No, not really. There's still the need to underline scenes with his standard "cuteness" brushstroke. I did find the "lemonade stand" plot standby about as effective as a child reciting Hamlet. Despite this quibble and even a standard "let me explain it all again—really" Spielberg-wrap-up speech by Streep, The Post still hits one out of the park and proves that the magic of Spielberg and Hanks (with Streep as the chili sauce) hasn't been a fluke and will never be. He employs a killer cast that also includes Sarah Paulson, Tracy Letts, Bradley Whitford, Bruce Greenwood, Alison Brie, Carrie Coon, John Rue, and David Cross.
My Final Two Cents: There will indeed be questions and even a lively discussion/debate as to whether the events in the film as well as its presidential aftermath will be the catalyst for any future events that can and may affect the #45 presidency. As a fan and supporter of free press, I feel it necessary never to say his name—ever!
Rated PG-13 for brief, but choice language and some shockingly mild war violence.