[Screen It]

"THE POST"
(2017) (Tom Hanks, Meryl Streep) (PG-13)


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QUICK TAKE:
Drama: Facing potential legal ramifications, the owner, executive editor, investigative reporters and lawyers working for The Washington Post must decide whether to run a story featuring classified government papers related to the Vietnam War that could reveal U.S. government wrongdoing.
PLOT:
It's 1971 and The Washington Post is struggling to get by financially. As a result, it's current owner, Kay Graham (MERYL STREEP), whose father and then late husband ran the paper before her, has decided to raise capital by taking the company public. With the help of chief corporate officer Fritz Beebe (TRACY LETTS) but despite naysayer board members such as Arthur Parsons (BRADLEY WHITFORD) who don't believe she's fit to run the company, Kay pushes forward, all while letting executive editor Ben Bradlee (TOM HANKS) run the day to day operations as he sees fit.

He's been wanting to make the paper more prominent and he thinks he might have the chance now that the U.S. government has banned the New York Times from running illegally obtained, top-secret government papers prepared by the Department of Defense examining the U.S. involvement in Vietnam over various presidential administrations. Upset by how Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara (BRUCE GREENWOOD) has been lying to the press about the progress of the war when the DoD study has proven otherwise, United States military analyst Daniel Ellsberg (MATTHEW RHYS) stole thousands of pages of the report, and now that the Times has backed down, he's gotten them to Post assistant managing editor Ben Bagdikian (BOB ODENKIRK).

From that point on, Kay -- who's been good friends with McNamara for years -- and Ben must weigh the potential ramifications of running the papers in the Post, something that could turn the paper into a nationally renowned publication, but could also put it and everyone involved in the story and leaked materials in legal trouble.

OUR TAKE: 7.5 out of 10
As an individual or business, you're always looking for something that puts you on the map, so to speak, of local, national or even international attention and/or acclaim. Nowadays, that can happen quite quickly what with all of the various forms of social media and their ability to reach thousands or millions of people at the click of a button.

In the old, prehistoric days that existed before the likes of YouTube, Facebook and so on, however, getting such public saturation took time and usually lots of advertising money. Or a lucky break or two involving something big.

Such was the case for The Washington Post in the early 1970s. Sure, the paper had been around for nearly a century by then, but it wasn't considered much more than a local publication and certainly not one of the caliber of the New York Times. But then along came the Nixon Administration, and while most consider its greatest "gift" to the Post -- in terms of turning it into a respected publication -- being everything related to the Watergate scandal, there was actually an earlier story that propelled the paper into the big boy leagues.

And that was its publishing of the Pentagon Papers, a Department of Defense study looking into the U.S. involvement in Vietnam over the course of three decades. Created by Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara in 1967, it wasn't meant for public consumption.

The material inside it was so damning of the government, however, that Daniel Ellsberg, who had worked on the study, stole the report and leaked it to The New York Times. Attorney General John Mitchell obtained a federal court injunction forcing the Times to cease publication of the report and that's where the Washington Post saw and prepared to seize its opportunity. That tale and the complicated decisions facing Post owner Katharine "Kay" Graham and executive editor Ben Bradlee now come to light in Steven Spielberg's superlative dramatic thriller, "The Post."

After a few intro sequences that feature Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys) as a Vietnam War correspondent in country, then not appreciating McNamara (Bruce Greenwood) lying to the press, and then deciding to steal the report, cut off the "classified" markings, and get that to the Times, the main story kicks in.

That's when we see Graham (Meryl Streep, likely to earn her twenty-first Oscar nomination) as one of the few female newspaper owners in the country, and one hoping to take her company public, all while surrounded by an entirely all-male board who like to do all the talking, explaining and thinking for her.

Unbeknownst to her, Bradlee (Tom Hanks, also excellent and likely to earn his sixth Oscar nom) and his assistant managing editor (Bob Odenkirk) think they're going to get their hands on the Pentagon Papers and despite the feds cracking down on the Times, plan on running their own story and publishing the papers.

All of which puts Kay in quite a bind. Her legal team says they'll be breaking the law, while the board worries that any bad publicity could derail the IPO. And complicating matters is the fact that she's longtime friends with McNamara, thus meaning she has a lot of soul searching to do and pivotal personal and business decisions to make.

Some or perhaps all of that might sound a bit lacking in terms of creating a crackerjack piece of engaging entertainment, but Spielberg -- working from Liz Hannah and Josh Singer's screenplay -- does just that. The film is brimming with energy, not just from the narrative quandaries at play and terrific performances all around, but also from Janusz Kami?ski's cinematography, Michael Kahn and Sarah Broshar's editing and John Williams' score.

Yes, it feels very much like a Spielberg film, and if his style of storytelling and directorial flourishes bother you, you might not be so enamored. I happen to enjoy them, and if you do as well, you'll be in store for a thought-provoking and highly entertaining look at a past event about the importance and freedom of the press that's turning out to be just as important today as it was four decades ago. I thoroughly enjoyed this offering from start to finish and thus "The Post" rates as a 7.5 out of 10.




Reviewed November 27, 2017 / Posted January 12, 2018


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