Saturday, January 06, 2018

The Post

I readily admit - I never really knew a whole lot about the Pentagon Papers - Watergate usurped it in the public eye fairly quickly, and though I believe the actual content of the papers outraged people, it's easier to maintain that sort of anger for something like Watergate: An obvious crime committed by individuals, uncovered through something like conventional police work. It doesn't speak of institutional rot or make law-and-order types uncomfortable. Look at today - as much as we're seeing a lot of people get agitated about Trump-Russia collusion, the "Panama Papers" never really broke through as a story, and there's not a whole lot of sympathy for whistleblowers like Chelsea Manning or Edward Snowden. People want them to work within the system, even if the whole point of what they're leaking is that the regular order is systemically corrupt. You could transplant the arguments Jesse Plemons's character makes before the Supreme Court in this movie to the present very easily, although I suspect the filmmakers would rather the whole idea burrow into one's head rather than be given an obvious link.

Here's hoping that our brains aren't too frozen by this ridiculous winter to make that connection!

The Post

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen on 5 January 2018 in AMC Boston Common #17 (first-run, DCP)

Traditional narratives can be undervalued because it's easy to get more obviously excited about the thing that does something one has never seen or does something familiar in a new way, and it can make one undervalue movies like Steven Spielberg's latest. The Post doesn't break new ground, and it doesn't necessarily reveal a hidden story, although its real-life plot would in many ways be usurped by events that happened later. It hits certain things with a heavier touch than it might, although that directness is arguably both part of the setting and part of the point. But execution is nearly flawless, and a good story well told is always welcome.

That it is a good story well told is to be expected - this is a Steven Spielberg film starring Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks, with Spielberg's usual core group of composer John Williams, cinematographer Janusz Kaminski, and editor Michael Kahn in tow. It's a group of people who are very good at their jobs, and who know how to make movies that entertain an audience but have the sort of experience that the end result doesn't feel like it's reducing a complex situation to a simple one. This movie is focused, covering about a week where the leadership of The Washington Post, not yet considered a journalistic powerhouse, must choose whether or not to report on a massive leak about the past twenty-five years of American involvement in Vietnam, with the twin factors of the Nixon White House insisting the New York Times cease and desist publishing the same Pentagon Papers and the paper being in the middle of an initial public offering making it especially perilous. It's decorated with enjoyable details that never distract, communicating its ideas of how crucial transparency and freedom of the press are clearly while giving the audience easy entry.

It's got a few very nice performances. Streep could have easily pushed publisher Kay Graham toward being an ignorant dilettante, but she's much more interesting as a socialite who has principles but can be fuzzy on specifics at first. It's a performance of incredible warmth, and Streep does a tremendously impressive job of showing Kay creeping out of her comfort zone without making her look foolish, and confronting hard questions without losing her congenial, maternal air. There could be more friction between her and Hanks's editor Ben Bradlee, but there's a familiarity that makes them only so adversarial but ultimately closer in attitude than they may think. Bradlee himself is a role that fits Hanks like a glove; quick-witted, personable, and just prone enough to exasperation that he can occasionally break out the voice-cracking sarcasm. There's a terrific cadre of supporting cast members that almost invisibly bolster the film - the likes of Bob Odenkirk, Bruce Greenwood, Bradley Whitford, Michael Stuhlbarg, and Sarah Paulson (among several others) create a solidly believably world for Graham and Bradlee to inhabit, playing against them without opposing them.

Full review at EFC

No comments: