THE POST (2017, PG-13, 116 minutes, AMBLIN ENTERTAINMENT/DREAMWORKS)
I find it hard to believe that I grew up on Steven Spielberg films, mostly due to the fact that I’m freaking old now, and he is STILL making movies.
The first film I recall seeing in theatres was CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND. Yeah, I’m that stinkin’ old. And despite a couple of questionable choices along the way (I’m talking about the aliens in the fourth INDIANA JONES movie and, of all things, freaking TINTIN), the iconic director always manages to define the times in every film he makes, even if he is telling a story from long ago. Case in point: THE POST. In a landscape now littered with “fake news” and a press beleaguered with complaints of leaning too far to one side or not being fair in their reporting, Mr. Spielberg serves up the story of the Washington Post’s reporting of decades of lies from our own government concerning the Vietnam Conflict. The correlations between the struggles of the “free” press then and now are hauntingly similar in their need for vindication and the struggle to retain and maintain the fundamentals of reporting.
Meryl Streep stars as Post owner Kay Graham, who is faced with the harsh reality of publishing secret government documents and possibly losing investors at a time when the paper was attempting to go public, or bury the true function of what the paper itself stood for: reporting the facts. Tom Hanks is Ben Bradlee, the editor looking for a fight. Watch him closely, and you will see how he uses that fight to define his profession, if not his ideology.
The cast here is nothing short of remarkable; Sarah Paulson (“American Horror Story”), Bob Odenkirk (“Better Call Saul”), Tracy Letts (“Homeland”), and Bradley Whitford (GET OUT) round out the recognizable talent, but the true scene stealer (besides Hanks, and there’s probably a good reason why you don’t see them together onscreen here) is Bruce Greenwood as Robert McNamara. His Secretary of Defense is a man conflicted; he has a role as a politician, and a role as an American, and his struggle within the blurred lines is visible in every wrinkle etched upon his face and the vulnerability within his eyes.
As current political commentary, the film works in not so subtle ways. But as a story about a vital piece of American history, Mr. Spielberg hits on several levels that you have to marvel at. This was the golden age of newspapers, before everyone got their news from Yahoo! headlines and social media. So, seeing the lack of female reporters in the newsrooms shouldn’t be a surprise. What is surprising is how alone Streep’s Kay Graham looks in a crowd of men. She is aware of their doubt and speculation about a woman being in charge, and you can see the difference when she walks through a crowd of women who clearly appreciate and adore her, even though not a one says a single word. It is her victories that the viewer should appreciate, and we do—thanks to the cast and the well-honed storytelling techniques of a certain iconic director.
Thankfully, Mr. Spielberg never gets heavy-handed with his need for you to question what you know, or how you know it. It is clear from his appreciative eye that the printing press is an actual awesome thing to behold; seeing the machinations behind the page is a wondrous thing, a veritable climax of the fight to get the words there to begin with.
And while I appreciate all his ‘mirror of the times’ takes on history (who else could capture the fear of terrorism in a film called MUNICH at a time when modern terrorism had us all in a state of horror?), I also can’t wait for his return to science fiction in March with READY PLAYER ONE. Which is about a vast online gaming world… okay, yeah. Mirror of the times. Just take my money already.
-- T.S. Kummelman