Monday, April 30, 2018

THE POST (2017): Story of the Pentagon Papers

The Post, like most of Steven Spielberg’s films, is relatively safe viewing.  Spielberg seldom takes chances.  Often he tells his stories with the considerable benefit of hindsight.  He does the same thing with The Post.  Yet Spielberg demonstrates again in The Post that he is a good storyteller, and that he is capable of creating an intelligent if somewhat predictable film.

The film is about the release of the report prepared by the former Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara (Bruce Greenwood), in 1967.  Originally, it was the New York Times that got its hands upon the report in 1971.  It came into the hands of the Times through Daniel Ellsberg ((Matthew Rhys), who incidentally also worked on the McNamara report, and turned over to reporter Neil Sheehan (Justin Swain).  The gist of the report was that four presidents including Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson misled the American people about a great many things concerning the Vietnam War.

The Nixon administration fought the Times in court to prevent publishing of the report.  But while a court order prevented the Times from going forward and printing the report, Ellsberg then turned the report over to reporters at the Washington Post.  The Nixon administration once again tried to prevent the Post from printing the report, and this time the court case went all of the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.  The Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that the Post could print it.

This film concentrates mainly upon the decision of Kay Graham (Meryl Streep), the publisher of the Post (and the first woman publisher of any major U.S. newspaper), to print excerpts of the report to begin with.  Having taken over the Post from her deceased husband (who had committed suicide), Kay had no experience in newspaper publishing before that time.   Now she was up against the Nixon administration who, her friend McNamara assures her, is utterly ruthless and will do everything in its power to destroy the Post.  That she listens to Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks), who is the executive editor of the Post, shows that she is willing to do the right thing at the possible sacrifice of an important friendship.  Bradlee would ultimately be the one to oversee the publishing of the McNamara report.

The Post is relatively short (115 minutes) and moves well for a film without a lot of action.  It is basically a character study.  And Meryl Streep is good in the lead role playing an awkward and unsure woman who now needs to make an important and courageous publishing decision.  She does just that.  Tom Hanks is less satisfactory as Bradlee because he’s playing that same role we’ve seen Hanks play before.  He’s almost too good to be true.  While there are a number of other famous names playing roles in the movie, these essentially are the only two who matter.  Most notably Bradley Whitford of West Wing fame plays one of the board members, Arthur Parsons, at the Post who from beginning to end opposes anything that Kay Graham ultimately supports in regard to the newspaper.

The problem with The Post is we already know the story too well.  We already know what Nixon said on the tapes regarding the publishing of the report.  And we know that Nixon is an easy villain to portray in a film.  In fact, I don’t believe any Hollywood movie ever portrayed Nixon sympathetically.  It wouldn’t go over with the type of audience member that sees these sorts of films. 
Anyway, there is never a great deal of subtlety in any Spielberg film.  We have the good guys and the villains, and we know who they are from beginning until end.

April 30, 2018

© Robert S. Miller 2018