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‘The Post’ offers up far more than star power

January 12, 2018

In the early part of this millennium, I spent my professional life as a full-time journalist.

 

It wasn’t something I even knew I wanted to do until I saw “All the President’s Men” for the first time. But I was on an adjacent educational path at the time and thought, “eh, why not?” It was a long and bumpy career path, but every time my resolution wavered, I’d see something like “The Paper,” “His Girl Friday,” “Zodiac,” or “Shattered Glass,” and I’d once again know that I was right where I needed to be.

 

So it should come as no surprise that as I settled, and became fully engrossed, in Steven Spielberg’s “The Post” I started fondly recalling my time on the beat. By the time the credits ran the feeling had passed, but like great all great newspaper movies, it made me momentarily consider an eventual return.

Tom Hanks (as Ben Bradlee) and Meryl Streep (as Kay Graham) star in Twentieth Century Fox’s “The Post.” (Photo Credit: Niko Tavernise. © 2017 TWENTIETH CENTURY FOX FILM CORPORATION AND STORYTELLER DISTRIBUTION CO. LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.)

In “The Post” Meryl Streep stars as Kay Graham, the real-life former publisher of the Washing Post, with Tom Hanks serving as Ben Bradlee, the Post’s executive editor during explosive times that saw the paper document the Watergate scandal and its publishing of the Pentagon Papers. “The Post” focuses on the latter.

 

At the time, Bradlee and the Post’s staff was trying to move the paper from a small, regional outlet to one with national prominence. But other outlets – namely the New York Times – had more resources at their disposal to break the big stories.

 

Those stories included the Pentagon Papers – a series of leaked documents that pointed to a White House cover-up that spanned four presidencies over U.S. involvement in Vietnam.

 

After running the first set of stories, a court injunction temporarily barred the Times from continuing.

 

With the future of the free press in jeopardy, Bradlee must convince the Post’s attorneys and Kay that it’s their responsibility to run with the truth. And for her part, Kay must decide if flying in the face of the courts is in the best interest of the paper, her family and both of their legacies.

Tom Hanks (Ben Bradlee), David Cross (Howard Simons), John Rue (Gene Patterson), Bob Odenkirk (Ben Bagdikian), Jessie Mueller (Judith Martin), and Philip Casnoff (Chalmers Roberts) in Twentieth Century Fox’s “The Post.” (Photo Credit: Niko Tavernise. © 2017 TWENTIETH CENTURY FOX FILM CORPORATION AND STORYTELLER DISTRIBUTION CO. LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.)

I could talk about the outstanding supporting performances (and there are many) that give “The Post” depth and flare, but let’s face it – this one is all about the director and the two lead actors.

 

First, I will remind anyone that will listen that I am not a Meryl Streep fan. I understand why people adore her and I am in no way blind to her talents. It’s just a case of personal preference. Having said that, she is outstanding this time out. Kay Graham had some very tough decisions to make, mainly in the realm of balancing her personal and professional lives, which were incredibly intertwined. That torment, and the strength to face it head on, comes shining through. When Meryl collects her Best Actress nomination later this month, I will have zero “she got nominated because she’s Meryl” comments. Any accolades she receives are deserved.

 

The same can be said for Tom Hanks. Much like Meryl, Hanks is generally lauded by critics for making toast in the morning. Sometimes it’s deserved and other times it’s not. This time it most certainly is. Bradlee was a very flawed, albeit determined, character. Hanks manages to make you sort of dislike the man, but truly respect his motives. I still prefer Jason Robards as Bradlee (from “All the President’s Men”), but Hanks did a mighty fine job. I’d argue this is Hanks’ best performance since “Philadelphia” – “Forrest Gump” included.

Howard Simons (David Cross), Frederick “Fritz” Beebe (Tracy Letts), Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks), Kay Graham (Meryl Streep), Arthur Parsons (Bradley Whitford), Chalmers Roberts (Philip Casnoff), Paul Ignatius (Brent Langdon), Meg Greenfield (Carrie Coon, seated) and other members of The Washington Post in Twentieth Century Fox’s “The Post.” (Photo Credit: Photo Credit: Niko Tavernise - © 2017 TWENTIETH CENTURY FOX FILM CORPORATION AND STORYTELLER DISTRIBUTION CO. LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.)

And when you have two alphas performing, you pretty much have to have an alpha directing. And does it get much bigger than Spielberg? He can masterfully tell the blockbuster tales, this much we know. But I think he’s often overlooked for the less explosive (figuratively) and more explosive (metaphorically) stories that he tells.

 

You know how “The Post” ends, just like you knew the outcome of “Schindler’s List” or “Lincoln,” and you continue to be on the edge of your seat. That’s the sign of someone at the top of the hill.

 

“The Post” takes an important (and magically still relevant 40+ years later) topic and turns it into something that could and should be of interest to most everyone.

 

At the end of the day you can draw interest to people reading, writing about and discussing stacks upon stacks of documents, you know you’ve got something special.

 

★★★★ of ★★★★★