Spielberg's 'The Post' revives the thrill in political thrillers

Streep is subtle to mesmerising effect Hanks is strong and self-assured. Steven Spielberg’s casting picks are stellar down to every minor character

Streep is subtle to mesmerising effect Hanks is strong and self-assured. Steven Spielberg’s casting picks are stellar down to every minor character

The Post races to a moving finish - one that will make you cheer and be inspired at the same time.

In the end, Kathryn Graham decides the paper, despite its precarious financial position, must publish, and not let government get away with suppressing the freedom of the press.

While everyone is waiting for Steven Spielberg's next movie, 'Ready Player One, ' he used the time spent in post-production to quickly shoot a movie that is nothing less than a statement for a free press and its importance for democracy in America: 'The Post'. Few do heroism, small or big, better than Spielberg, and the fact that he fashions them here out of mere words (not headlines), in times such as ours, deserves acknowledgment. With Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep attached from the start, it practically screams "prestige picture".

Spielberg crafts another moment, nearly as effective. Graham has to come to terms with the goals of the newspaper and journalism as a whole, and balance them with the friendships she has cultivated over the years with high-ranking government officials, among them Defense Secretary Robert McNamara (Bruce Greenwood), who is at the center of the Pentagon Papers. Did it really happen that way? And Spielberg knows every trick in the book.

But historical irony, no matter how relevant, means little to movie-goers if a film isn't well told and well executed. As I watched The Post, I couldn't help but draw parallels between how the White House, under President Nixon, tried to censor both The New York Times and The Washington Post back in the early '70s and how our current administration has suggested on multiple occasions that "fake news" exists. But then the Justice Department gets an injunction against the Times to prevent further publication, the first time in American history that the government has presented the press from publishing a story.

If it weren't for two other inspiring women - a 32-year-old first-time screenwriter and a former studio head whose career was almost derailed by hackers - it's possible the movie never would have been made.

Streep is quite wonderful as Graham, taking us on a journey from the unsure-of-herself woman (who had taken over the paper when her husband Phil killed himself in 1963) to a publisher willing to take chances.

When asked about her thoughts on Winfrey actually running for president in 2020, the actress wasn't opposed. Yet for middle-aged women of that second-wave feminist era, this was not an unusual phenomenon.

This could not be done without a stellar supporting cast of journalists and her executive editor, Ben Bradlee, played by Tom Hanks. The movie's challenge is the journalism story, which is not as clear-cut as Watergate and is therefore harder to dramatize. The news story at its heart is the leak of the Pentagon Papers. The news shocked people: that four successive US presidents (of both parties) kept from the American people the truth that the war in Viet Nam was unwinnable, all the while requiring more young men to go and fight, and often die, in that war. And the stories themselves were complex, not as simple as dirty tricks, a break-in and a cover-up - or, as in "Spotlight", priests molesting boys. The reporting here is the side story. "They knew we couldn't win", Ellsberg says here, "and still sent boys to die".

As always, Spielberg is a great storyteller who is never better than when doing biographical material like Schindler's List, Bridge of Spies, Lincoln, Munich, Catch Me If You Can, The Terminal and Amistad - or movies based on real-life events like Saving Private Ryan and War Horse.

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