By Espie Angelica A. De Leon
Steven Spielberg’s The Post gets the moviegoer hooked from beginning to end.
Fast-paced, probing, and provocative, the movie is based on true events which transpired in 1971 involving Katharine Graham and Ben Bradlee, publisher and executive editor of the Washington Post respectively, and the Pentagon Papers.
New York Times had previously published the Pentagon Papers and got entangled with the Nixon administration and the Justice Department for doing so.
Consisting of 7,000 pages, the Pentagon Papers referred to a top secret government study on the Vietnam War commissioned by then Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara in 1967 and completed in 1969. It revealed what Americans were not made to believe: that the government – spanning four US presidents across three decades – knew all along that the US was doomed to fail in the war but continued sending troops to Vietnam anyway.
Disappointed with how the truth was veiled in the eyes of Americans to make them believe that things were going well in the battlefront, Daniel Ellsberg, a military analyst involved in the study, leaked the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times.
And then, the race to pick up where the New York Times left off begins. Ben Bagdikian, national editor of Washington Post, gets hold of the papers. All these take place at a time when Graham’s broadsheet was about to launch its initial public offering (IPO) of stocks.
The first female publisher of a leading American newspaper, Graham took over the reins for the Post after husband and former publisher Philip Graham passed away in 1963. Katharine’s father, Eugene Meyer, who bought the bankrupt Post in 1933, passed the baton to his son-in-law instead of to his own daughter.
Katharine is also McNamara’s friend. Meanwhile, Bradlee and his wife had ties with President John F. Kennedy.
So, to publish or not to publish? This is the question that Graham and Bradlee now have to deal with. Publishing an article about the confidential Vietnam War study may impact on newpaper’s IPO, get it entangled with the White House and the courts as well, just like the Times, and send Graham and Bradlee to jail.
The screenplay is brilliant. It deftly juggles the various underlying issues of the story–business and legal sides, feminism, family, friendship, press freedom, and the inner workings of journalism – without straying from the spine of the story and coming across as a narrative with a smattering of side tales. Instead, scriptwriters Liz Hannah and Josh Singer give us a gem of a script that needs to come alive on film for the current generation to be reminded of this chapter in American history.
It lets moviegoers in on the world of journalism–the huge, noisy newsrooms with reporters frantically pounding on their typewriter keys to meet their deadlines, editors wanting to get the scoop including the wedding of the presidential daughter, the rivalry between newspapers, the printing process, and more.
The scenes in Bradlee’s home where Washington Post reporters gather to sift through portions of the Pentagon Papers and write the story for publication the following day are pure genius. The images of pieces of paper laid out on the floor, reporters reading unarranged pages, connecting them, and later typing their stories, Bradlee’s little daughter going around the room selling lemonade to the Post staff, his wife serving sandwiches, all in an atmosphere of chaos, were expertly orchestrated and put together to recreate the pressure and sense of urgency under which the Washington Post people were working that very moment.
Equally outstanding are the actors. Tom Hanks as Ben Bradlee is, as usual, excellent. Both he and Meryl Streep as Katharine Graham are a natural in their scenes together, such as in that restaurant meeting early in the film.
However, it is Streep’s acting that is truly explosive. To describe her performance, I will have to state it this way: Onscreen, I saw Katharine Graham, not Meryl Streep. The actress slips into the role and conquers the screen in full character regalia. She reveals Graham’s confusion and vulnerability in the madness of the situation as if she (Streep) were made of glass. In the end, she also shows us how Graham eventually steeled herself to make that all too important decision of publishing an article about the US government’s deception. Streep is simply the acting heavyweight that she is in The Post, period.
Of course kudos goes to Steven Spielberg without whose direction all these elements would not have come together beautifully for one of the best movies of 2017. Once again, Spielberg gives us a showcase of his directorial mettle in a movie that is one of the frontrunners in the coming 2018 Academy Awards.
Not only is The Post worth watching; I believe it will also follow in the footsteps of other cinematic gems which have stood the test of time and continue to be talked about, over dinner, over coffee, and everything else.
June 2018 Health and Lifestyle