Movie Review: ‘THE POST’ is a beacon of hope in a time of need
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
Rated PG-13, 116 minutes.
Director: Steven Spielberg
Cast: Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Bob Odenkirk, Tracy Letts, Bradley Whitford, Bruce Greenwood, Sarah Paulson, Carrie Coon, Jesse Plemons, Matthew Rhys, David Cross and Alison Brie
Director Steven Spielberg scared us out of the water with JAWS. He also gave us the first badass Jewish assassins movie with MUNICH. Certainly he can save journalism with THE POST. And boy howdy does he! There’s a pressing urgency and electricity infused throughout this pathos-driven tale written by Liz Hannah and Josh Singer – one that reinvigorates the master filmmaker. Spielberg and company turn in a riveting tale that makes you sit further forward in your seat. This is about the importance of accountability and truth in a time of lies, resonant then and now.
Kay Graham (Meryl Streep) runs her father’s newspaper, The Washington Post. She’s a woman in a man’s world and, understandably, frets about both keeping her father’s legacy alive and the board members happy. That doesn’t mean that she defies social order in her personal life. She’ll still retire to the sitting room with the ladies after dinner instead of hanging with the men. She also hob-nobs with a few big names on the political circuit – like Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara (Bruce Greenwood). It’s these sort of relationships that will get jeopardized once the infamous, top secret “Pentagon Papers” come across Post editor Ben Bradlee’s (Tom Hanks) desk. With mounting threats by the government that could shut down one of the most important investigative reports of all time, the paper is forced to deal with a gigantic ethical conundrum: print the expose of a lifetime or bow to the demands of a corrupt president who thinks he’s above the law.
Hannah and Singer’s stakes are laid out clearly and thoroughly before the increasing tension of the situation begins to ramp up. Bradlee is worried about his competition – The New York Times – constantly scooping him. He’s tired of puff pieces. His editors, like Ben Bagdikian (Bob Odenkirk) and Howard Simons (David Cross), and reporters, like Meg Greenfield (Carrie Coon), are too. The company is on the precipice of going public, so anything could throw the paper into jeopardy. Once the filmmakers place us in the thick of the ensuing dramatics, its becomes palm-sweat-inducing, sending a surge of adrenaline through the audience’s veins. Similar to SPOTLIGHT, of which Singer wrote and this will be frequently compared, the filmmakers’ capture the energy of how a story is vetted and the surge of it going to the presses. Spielberg, in concert with cinematographer Janusz Kaminski (who does his least phoned in work in ages), showcases these massive mechanical beasts with an almost spiritual-like reverence.
It’s also easy to chart this as a highly feminist story, probably Spielberg’s most feminist film since THE COLOR PURPLE, about a woman finding her voice. It goes there with the sexism of that time period. Spielberg delivers a helluva show-stopping, pulse-pounding scene when Kay is on a phone call making the decision of her life, photographing it primarily through the God’s eye perspective. Plus, there’s humor woven into this film’s fabric, whether that be subtle or overt, like the lemonade hustle done by Bradlee’s daughter.
Despite her character experiencing a crisis of confidence, Streep brings tenacity to the table. The material affords her dynamic moments to shine, even in tender, restrained scenes like the one with daughter Lally (Alison Brie) in her bedroom. This film also houses Hanks’ most electric role in years. You can see the spark ignited by his frequent collaborator – and once that flame starts roaring, get ready to warm yourself by the fire. High marks also go to the supporting performances from Odenkirk, Bradley Whitford as oppressive board member Arthur Parsons, and Tracey Letts as Kay’s confidante Fritz Beebe. But it’s Coon who gets to deliver the line – the one you will audibly cheer.
There’s no way to not view these past events through a modern lens. It can’t be done. History repeats itself and it’s of the utmost importance that we look to the past for answers for our future. The final act ends with an on-the-nose button some audiences might be tempted to roll their eyes at. Please don’t. The focus should be on the hope that no matter how dire our political landscape gets, a change in the tide will most certainly occur. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel. We need this reminder right now. And if that sentiment isn’t trademark Spielberg, I don’t know what is.
THE POST opens on December 22 in limited release. It opens nationwide January 12, 2018.