Nutshell: Dynamic performances, and a story about a moment in the Nixon White House where the POTUS tried to break the First Amendment. Echoes of the current administration can’t be denied. Definitely one of my Top 10 films of 2017. Perhaps my #1. Just go see it. Grade: A
“We are not a little local paper anymore.”
Story: In 1971 the New York Times published an article on how the United States Government had, for several administrations, willfully lied to the American people about our status in the Vietnam War. When the New York Times is slapped with a restraining order from Nixon administration banning further publication of the information, The Washington Post gets a copy of the papers. To publish, or not to publish? That is the question.
Genre I’d put it in: “Those Who Forget History” Historical Dramas
Remake, Sequel, Based-On, or Original: Based on the real story of The Pentagon Papers.
Gotta say: Spielberg. Hanks. Streep. So what are you waiting for? Oh. My thoughts? Okay.
In a world where our current President (air quotes) regularly craps all over the First Amendment like an incontinent newborn, a story about how a President tried to crap all over the First Amendment and got smacked down is both life-affirming and ominous. As The Post unspooled during the press screening I attended, the silence was palpable. I’d like to say that everyone else in attendance was as wrapped up in the narrative as I was…but in order to verify that, I would have had to turn away from the screen and look around. I wasn’t about to let my eyes wander for a second.
Meryl Streep is amazing, as usual. As owner of The Washington Post Katharine Graham, Streep takes the character from timid “society wife” to Badass Lady #1. And it’s completely believable. As for Tom Hanks as Ben Bradlee? I want another Watergate movie, just so I can see Hanks as this no-nonsense journalist one more time.
What amazes me the most about this film is that back in the day journalists rubbed elbows with the people they covered. Graham was close friends with Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. Bradlee and his wife were friends with JFK and Jackie. But until The Pentagon Papers, many journalists took a lighter touch with their friends. The secrets in the Papers not only furthered the cause of the freedom of the press, it drew a line in the sand between journalists and their topics of publication. Seeing that played out was fascinating. In a scene where Graham goes to McNamara (Bruce Greenwood, playing McNamara as a wounded but hopeful and yet still commanding) to help her decide whether to publish or not, the depth of the friendship between the two is obvious, making the scene heartbreaking as well as climactic.
Then there’s the direction. Hell, it’s Spielberg; it’s amazing. At the climax, when the Pentagon Papers issue is about to go to print, the cuts between Graham trying to decide whether to publish or not, and the monstrous printing machines gearing up adds delicious tension. There’s even a lovely use of color that echoes All The President’s Men and Network. And can I pause a moment and bask in the gloriousness of La Streep in a gold threaded kaftan? I think I will, thank you.
A petty, vindictive president denying access to the press, threatening legal action, and accused of doing all sorts of illegal activities? The Post may be looking at the Nixon administration, but damn if this movie doesn’t feel like something that could happen right now. Only time will tell. Crom help us all. But I’m truly proud of my hometown rag, a paper that hasn’t stopped demanding the truth from our representatives. You go, WaPo. You go.
#Protip: Those of you who’d like more info on the New York Times v United States Supreme Court case and what it means for our First Amendment rights can take a peek at Hip Hughes’ video here, and a breakdown of the case itself at the Bill Of Rights Institute here, for more info. If you’re interested in more about Badass Lady #1, Katharine Graham, read her autobiography, Personal History.