Saturday, January 27, 2018

The Post review

I'm going to use an early seventies metaphor to describe the film The Post. It's like an Apollo rocket just before launch. It stands there quietly with little action. But when ignition comes, it is a powerful testament to an idea. Literally, the rocket is the triumph of science. But in our metaphor if the rocket is the movie, The Post is a tribute to a free press.

The Post starts out with Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys) a researcher with the Department of Defense and later The Rand Corporation seeing the horrors of the Viet Nam war. It's the late sixties. While at Rand, he sneaks out a secret government study of the war and its dirty secrets. In essence, the report concludes the war could not be won and the basic reason for it was American prestige. He leaks it to the New York Times.

Meanwhile, Washington Post owner Katherine Graham (Meryl Streep) is about to offer her paper for public investment. She's warned that any catastrophic event would scare off the bankers and investors. Post editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) is frustrated that the New York Times constantly scoops them, particularly with the publication of Ellsberg's report now known as The Pentagon Papers. When the government gets an injunction against the Times, Bradlee dispatches reporter Ben Bagdikian (Bob Odenkirk) to get leads on the Pentagon Papers.

Every performance in The Post rings true, from the part of the maid to the major roles. Meryl Streep's Graham is a study in sadness over the loss of her husband, fear over the possible loss of paper, and moral heroism in risking it all to publish the truth. Tom Hanks plays his Bradlee as cantankerous newsman drive with one goal. Speak truth to power. Bruce Greenwood as former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara is not an evil man. But he's supporting a lie that he feels will benefit the country. Bob Odenkirk's Bagdikian is a dedicated, yet neurotic reporter.

Liz Hannah and Josh Singer's script takes enough artistic license to make compelling cinema. Yeah, the move feels inert during the first half. It's an Apollo rocket. The ignition comes when Bagdikian meets Ellsberg in a motel room with volumes of the Pentagon Papers. Their conversation details the risks and Ellsberg's sense of guilt for the country. The movie lifts off. Graham must decide whether to publish the truth and face possible jail or choose the safe route. I have no problem with the speeches made in this film. They are exactly what is needed to elucidate the importance of a free press. And that wonderful idea is a bedrock of American democracy. The movie has purpose.

Director Steven Spielberg is one of America's greatest filmmakers. He uses every trick in his repertoire to create a compelling, interesting and triumphant film. He gets great performances from his actors. There is fascinating camera movements. He either drains the color or uses filters to give the move an old yet timeless quality. Kudos also to Janusz Kaminski's cinematography. It's a beautiful use of light and shadow.

Spielberg said on directing The Post, "this was a story i felt we needed to tell today." (USA Today) Amen to that. President Donald Trump hates the free press. That's because they will speak truth to power especially when the government doesn't want the truth to come out. If a partisan Congress won't tell the truth on Trump's ties to Russia then a free press will.

The Post may not be as entertaining as other good films of 2017. But it is certainly the most important. And it deserves the Oscar for Best Picture. The grade is A.

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