Meet the women who made Pentagon Papers drama "The Post" possible

Alfred Osborne
January 14, 2018

You're chasing down a big story and inadvertently stumble across another story that may be even bigger. It's the product of a top-notch filmmaking team, led by director Steven Spielberg, working at hyperspeed to produce a movie they felt would make an important statement about the power of the freedom of the press to check unhinged executive power.

So he brought in Josh Singer, who won an Oscar with Tom McCarthy for "Spotlight", another film about journalism.

The Tweeter-in-Chief screaming "fake news" and railing against the New York Times, the Post and almost every other media outlet that isn't Fox News, however, isn't as gravely serious as the attempt by President Richard Nixon and his gang of criminals to stop the publication of the stories taken from the leaked, top-secret history of the Vietnam War. Unfinished? Eastwood-ian? The astonishing thing is that while there are a few clunkers (as if a parody, the film actually opens in Vietnam to the sound of helicopters and Creedence Clearwater Revival), on the whole, "The Post" is meat and potatoes Spielberg in the best possible way. Seeing those two threads intertwine in such a gripping and energetic movie, with a large cast so good that it's nearly unfair, really, is a blast.

Having seen government advisor Daniel Ellsburg (Matthew Rhys) leak the Pentagon Papers - a study of the United States' involvement in Vietnam from 1945-1967, commissioned by Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara - to the New York Times, and seeing their efforts to publish them in their entirety stymied by a cease and desist order from the Justice Department, the movie arrives at its thematic center. Then you come down to the individuals who are inside that estate and Ben Bradlee was a man who loved his job. Yet, it "sent boys to die" - this they did largely to avoid the humiliation of the American defeat. Inside her living room, Washington Post publisher Kay Graham (Meryl Streep) and daughter Lally (Alison Brie) spend their morning with lamps lit and curtains half-drawn, straining to read the early edition. Those men are represented by a Who's Who of character actors, including Tracy Letts, Bradley Whitford, Michael Stuhlbarg and David Cross. They are convincing as colleagues who don't always agree but who always respect each other.

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The publication of the papers, which had already occurred in the New York Times, was fraught with peril because the government had threatened to sue the paper. The outcome of this story allowed Ben Bradlee and Katherine Graham to pursue through the genius, investigative reporting of Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward that eventually led to Richard Nixon's resignation. He pursues the story with the purest, strongest force known to journalism - that of the scooped trying to scoop their scooper. Graham, the boss, is caught in the middle.

Even though anyone who knows the history knows what happens, the suspense is palpable. Streep was gifted a Woody hat, and perfectly yelled, "YOU ARE A TOY" which is one of Hanks' best Toy Story moments of all time. As she says, "We will carry on in the tradition that has been so well set".

She and Hanks have great chemistry, with Hanks acknowledging Jason Robards' iconic performance as Bradlee in "All the President's Men" while making the role his irascible own. Where The Post fits in is something that might surprise you, but suffice it to say, that movie has definitely earned its place in the following group. The final act seems set up as a welcomed pivot to a courtroom drama, in which lawyers will tie a bow on the sacred responsibilities of a free press. In honor of the film's roll-out into wide release this weekend, we've drawn up a list of five films that best show the news industry at its most effective.

FINAL ANALYSIS: An interesting film that recalls a negative era of U.S. Military History.

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