The Post * 2017 * Rated PG-13 * 1 Hour 56 Minutes
😸😸😸😸😸 Rated 5/5 Happy lap cats
I was a kid when the Vietnam War and the Pentagon Papers were big news, and in junior high school when the Watergate scandal seemed to go on forever. As an adult, I understand the importance of these events, but, as they were happening, they bored me to tears. At a time when our entertainment options were limited, the struggles of the Nixon administration took over the airwaves for years.
So I don’t seek out movies like The Post. However, silly me, I married a political junkie, and Mr Metawitches loves a political thriller or a political history film. This review will be heavy on his insight, since this is his genre. Given all of that, it’s impressive that The Post kept me engrossed for the entire movie, with its perfectly timed pacing, snappy dialogue, and enough intrigue to turn the story into a political thriller.
The Post, directed by Steven Spielberg and written by Liz Hannah and Josh Singer, follows the story of the publication of the Pentagon Papers in 1971 by The NY Times and The Washington Post. The Pentagon Papers, top secret documents which exposed the futile nature of the US involvement in the Vietnam War, and the lies that were told over the course of various presidential administrations to cover this up, had been leaked to both newspapers by Daniel Ellsberg, who had worked on the study and had access to the finished product.
The NY Times received the Pentagon Papers first, and began publication of a series of related articles. When the federal government issued an injunction to stop the Times from continuing their series, The Washington Post picked up the ball and ran with it, despite the considerable risk involved.
The film centers around legendary Post editor-in-chief Ben Bradlee and his quest to obtain a copy of the Pentagon Papers for his newspaper, Post publisher and owner Katherine Graham’s struggle to find her voice and confidence as the first female publisher of a major US newspaper, and the decisions both they and the rest of the newspapers’ inner circle made surrounding the publication of their first story about the Pentagon Papers, at a time when they risked contempt of court charges and jail time if they published.
The story shows the changes that the Pentagon Papers and the Watergate stories brought to how news is covered. Both Graham and Bradlee were friends with sitting presidents, and socialized with the upper echelons of government on an almost daily basis. They weren’t unusual in this, either. Up until that time, it was understood that the press would keep most of the government’s dirty little secrets, both out of friendship and to maintain access. These stories changed that, as the press began to take its role as the 4th estate and the country’s right to freedom of speech seriously.
According to the Supreme Court decision which allowed the publication of the articles about the Pentagon Papers to move forward, quoted in the film: “In the First Amendment, the Founding Fathers gave the free press the protection it must have to fulfill its essential role in our democracy. The press was to serve the governed, not the governors.”
The Post also focuses on Katherine Graham’s growth from a mild-mannered wife and mother who was happy to let her husband run the family newspaper into the brave, daring, first female Fortune 500 CEO. Meryl Streep keeps Kay restrained and polite throughout the film, as would be expected of a Washington socialite. There are a few times where you can see that she’s had just about enough and begins to get that fierce Streep glare. It’s a triumphant moment when she finally tells some of the overbearing board members that The Post is no longer her father’s company or her husband’s company. Now it’s her company, and she’s making the decisions.
The all-star ensemble cast are as excellent as one would expect when presented with names like Meryl Streep (Katherine Graham), Tom Hanks (Ben Bradlee), Bradley Whitford (Arthur Parsons), Bob Odenkirk (Ben Bagdikian), Sarah Paulson (Tony Bradlee), Carrie Coon (Meg Greenfield) and Matthew Rhys (Daniel Ellsberg), to name a few. Part of the fun is in seeing how long it takes to figure out who the familiar face and voice is underneath the period hair and makeup.
And the period stylings are very well done. They look understated and realistic, rather than the modernized or over the top versions of 70s styles that we often see in films. Katherine Graham’s clothing alone shows us the many roles she’s playing in life, and how she struggles to keep everyone happy. Most of her clothing is designer, tailored and timeless, as would be expected of a woman of her age and social position.
As she comes into her own, she spends a long period toward the end of the film in a flowing, beaded off-white kaftan. It takes confidence to wear something like that, while making important business decisions with male coworkers breathing down your neck. But she’s channeling the Angel of Free Speech, so she can pull it off. 😘 (Don’t laugh. This is Spielberg. Anything is possible.)
The limitations of communications in the 70s are highlighted through the use of landline office and public pay telephones and repeated printings and deliveries of newspapers, but not in a disrespectful way. It’s simply to remind us all that things were done differently then, using a different set of parameters. Even having lived through the time period, it’s easy to forget how much more complicated it was to transfer documents and information in those days, or get several people on the phone together.
Those banks of outdoor pay phones, with piles of change on top, and the bundles of newspapers being thrown into the puddles on the streets felt so realistic that I was worried a time machine was going to try to take me back there (I won’t go!). The Post should have been a contender for Oscar nominations for Makeup and Hair, Costume Design, and Production Design, instead of just the two it got for Meryl Streep (Lead Actress) and Best Picture.
This film is terrible about introducing characters by name. It would have been helpful to say each character’s name a couple of times in their presence when they’re introduced, or to flash their name on the screen. As it was, there were some characters we didn’t identify until the end of the film, even when it turned out they were famous people we should have recognized.
My one real complaint is that the movie can be difficult to keep up with at first, if you don’t brush up on the subject matter before going to the theater. Since the main themes of the movie are the first amendment issue and Katherine Graham’s growth arc, it’s not essential to understand the details of what the Pentagon Papers are after the first 10 minutes or so.
But the film does rely on the audience having a general idea of the history of the Vietnam War if you’re going to keep up with the chatter about the individual newspaper stories they’re writing. It would have been simple to add a couple of paragraphs explaining a bit of background to the beginning of the film, matching the follow up history we get at the end of the film.
Overall, The Post is a very well made film with a stellar cast, an excellent script, an important subject that’s relevant to the current time, and a production design that takes you back to the historical period. It’s well worth seeing. The end is even a set up for Graham and Bradlee’s next famous adventure, depicted in the film that could almost be The Post’s sequel (or maybe The Post is the prequel), All the President’s Men (1976).
Photo Credit: Twentieth Century Fox