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The Post (2/10)

by Tony Medley

Runtime 115 minutes


The film tells the story of Katherine Graham (Meryl Streep) who, as the owner of the Washington Post, had to make a decision on whether or not to publish the Pentagon Papers after the New York Times had been enjoined by a court from doing so.

The decision was made even more difficult because the Post had gone public on June 15, 1971 and published the Papers on June 18, risking a breach of its covenants with its financiers, at least according to this film. I don’t know whether that’s true or just some Hollywood Hokum to add tension to the movie.

Streep, who took a huge cheap shot at Margaret Thatcher (The Iron Lady, 2011) by playing her after she was stricken with dementia instead of during the prime of her life when she was probably one of the two best Prime Ministers of Great Britain in centuries, pays homage to Graham by playing her as one of the most heroic women in the history of mankind, a modern Joan of Arc. For Streep, it all depends on her character’s politics; showing conservative Thatcher in the throes of dementia while showing liberal Graham at the peak of her powers is typical of her sense of decency and fairness. She apparently wants to world to remember Thatcher as mentally challenged, so that’s what she chose to show, knowing that billions of people will form a lasting impression after seeing a Hollywood film.

I saw this film in the heart of the Hollywood Left, the Directors’ Guild Theater (DGA). It was packed. Producer/director Steven Spielberg was there. He got a standing ovation before the Q&A.

The film stars ardent lefties Streep and Tom Hanks. And just in case there are any doubts that the Hollywood Left might not still be following Lenin’s dictum to use art as a weapon or that this film might not have a political slant, Spielberg put them to rest. He said he first learned of the script in February and he “knew he had to do it,” and that he felt a “social imperative to get it out this year.” He added, “Everything that happened in ’71 is happening in ’17,” and pointed out that the numbers of the years are reversed. Then he said, “Truth tellers will outlast what’s happening today.” Apparently Steven is unaffected by the unprecedented bias of the mainstream media in what they report and what they choose not to report. Or, more likely, as long as the untruths and biases favor his POV, that’s OK.

The always charming Spielberg, who sat for a Q&A after the screening, had an agenda and it showed when he said that he had never been more nervous showing a movie than he was when he screened it for Graham’s two sons. He said he was greatly relieved when they gave it their imprimatur as to the way he presented their mother. That’s hardly an unbiased director, interested only in truth.

I am sick of Hollywood creating false pictures about real people. Two recent movies portray Winston Churchill as an out of control falling-down-drunk sociopath. Now Ben Bradlee is the celebrity du jour, but since he was on the left he gets the kid gloves treatment. Bradlee had a lot of charm and it was brilliantly captured by Jason Robards in All the President’s Men (1976). That portrayal was one of the best things that ever happened to Ben, who showed his lack of dedication to the “truth” by flacking for his best friend, JFK, when Bradlee was with Newsweek and JFK was POTUS. Instead of reporting the “truth” of what was going on in the Kennedy White House, like dooming the Bay of Pigs invasion by refusing to allow the second air strike to protect the invaders, and by failing to report JFK’s rampant womanizing in the White House and on the road, Bradlee edited what he wrote and what he chose to publish to only reflect the positive.

Here Bradlee doesn’t get that break because Tom Hanks just doesn’t have the same talent to create the mystique and charm that Robards produced. The result is a harried, unappealing character. Since this film takes place immediately before the incidents portrayed in All the President’s Men, one wonders how a man could change from the harried Hanks to the cool Robards in the space of just a few months.

In a nutshell, this is no All the President’s Men and there are many reasons. One is that the Watergate story is a mystery and far more compelling than this, which is basically just about a woman making a difficult decision. Another is that All the President’s Men was and remains an always entertaining movie with a well-written script, good directing, fine acting, and lots of tension even though the outcome is known. The Post is none of those.

Naturally, being Spielberg, he drags it out for almost two hours, making this almost as slow and boring as some of his other snorers like Lincoln (2012).

The sole thing I liked about this was the performance of Bob Odenkirk (Better Call Saul), the only actor who accurately portrayed how a reporter in his situation would act, the WAPO journalist Ben Bagdikian, who made contact with Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys), the person who purloined the Pentagon Papers. Ellsberg has a mystifyingly small role, considering what he did. But since Spielberg and everyone else involved consider this a metaphor for fighting President Trump, Daniel Ellsberg would be irrelevant.

It’s a shame that a review of a movie has to spend so much time and effort pointing out the political biases of what went into its making. But when the Hollywood left rallies together to intentionally make a film for the sole purpose of making a political point (Spielberg admitted he had never seem such unanimous eagerness to participate when putting together a team to make a movie), it should be challenged and revealed.