Our generation had Julian Asange, Bradley Manning and Wikileaks and our parents had Watergate, Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers, the protagonists of massive releases of top secret military intelligence to the general public creating a huge political trauma between the people and the state. In both cases the overwhelming volume of documents somewhat diluted the story but damming all the same.
‘The Post’ looks at the release of the McNamara papers in 1971 and the legal battle that ensued as newspapers battled with their conscious whether to release the files that may cost American soldiers lives in Vietnam. The most damning reveal was that just ten percent of the war effort in Vietnam was to help the South Vietnamese, twenty percent was to hold back the communist but seventy percent was to avoid the humiliation of an American defeat with an attritional war. Seventy percent of the American losses were just to avoid America being humiliated. It was a similar story in Afghanistan and Iraq. America invaded to prove their power but couldn’t end the war with dignity.
The Post is the classic sort of biopic film that has always won Oscars. It’s about a traumatic time in American history, released in January and so down to the critics to get it nominated, the only people who have seen it by then. Hollywood loves this sort of thing and the mostly male, white middle-class and middle-aged critics are expected to back it. But The Academy voters are deliberately more diverse today and not having any of it. Why else would The Black Panther get seven Oscar nominations this year? Those perfunctory award winning films days are over. Proof of that? This is the first movie in which the queen of Hollywood, Meryl Streep, gives an Oscar nominated performance in a Best Picture nominee, and the film did not go on to win Best Picture. It’s her first Best Actress nominee in a film nominated for Best Picture since Out of Africa back in 1985, a gap of 33 years, despite the fact she has been nominated 15 more times since then.
With two nominations for Best Picture and Best Actress, The Post (2017) also holds the distinction of being the king of Hollywood, director Steven Spielberg, lowest-tally for a Best Picture-directed nominee ever. The winds of change are blowing hard. Meryl is also the first Best Actress nominee for a Steven Spielberg film since Whoopi Goldberg for The Color Purple (1985). Michael Stuhlbarg also stars here and appeared in three Oscar nominated films in 2017.
Meryl Streep … Kay Graham
Tom Hanks … Ben Bradlee
Sarah Paulson … Tony Bradlee
Bob Odenkirk … Ben Bagdikian
Tracy Letts … Fritz Beebe
Bradley Whitford … Arthur Parsons
Bruce Greenwood … Robert McNamara
Matthew Rhys … Daniel Ellsberg
Alison Brie … Lally Graham
Carrie Coon … Meg Greenfield
Jesse Plemons … Roger Clark
Ben Bagdikian … Bob Odenkirk
The Supreme Court ruling –‘…from the majority opinion: ‘In the First Amendment the Founding Fathers gave the free press the protection it must have to fulfill its essential role in our democracy. The press was to serve the governed, not the governors…’
Its 1966 and State Department military analyst Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Ryes) is embedded with American troops in combat, documenting the U.S. military in Vietnam for Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara (Bruce Greenwood). On the flight home, McNamara privately tells Ellsberg that the Vietnam War is going nowhere and a waste of young men. But when the plane lands, McNamara tells the assembled press the exact opposite, Ellsberg becoming disillusioned thereafter at the bullsh*t.
Five years on and embittered, Ellsberg is now a civilian military contractor working for the RAND Corporation. He has never forgotten that conversation and secretly photocopies hundreds of classified documents on the conflict in Vietnam, dating back to the Truman administration. Ellsberg leaks the documents to The New York Times.
We meet newspaper heiress Katharine Graham (Streep), the owner of The Washington Post, following the deaths of her editor husband, Phil Graham, and her editor father before, Eugene Meyer. She is on edge as she readies for the newspaper’s stock-market launch to help financially stabilize the paper. She lacks the Graham family’s journalistic experience and instinct and is often overruled by her domineering male advisers, including editor-in-chief Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) and influential board member Arthur Parsons (Bradley Whitford).
McNamara is now Sectary of state and a long-time friend of the Graham’s, tipping of Katherine that The New York Times is publishing an unflattering story featuring him. It’s a telling exposé of the the Vietnam War. yet another example of her inexperience and her papers inability to get scoops while The NY Times prospers. However, she is about to catch a break when a court injunction halts the Times from publishing further Ellsberg documents. When Washington Post assistant editor Ben Bagdikian (Bob Odenkirk) tracks down his former colleague they get copies of Pentagon Papers.
The Post’s lawyer (Jesse Plemons) advises against publication, the Nixon administration likely to file criminal charges against them. It’s down to Katherine to make the decision that could make or break her paper, the stock market deal and the whole future of the freedom of the press.
Roger Clark: If the government wins and we’re convicted, the Washington Post as we know it will cease to exist.
Enjoyed it although it lacked the magic of those 1970s films about these topics. All The Presidents Men just did this stuff better. Cast is excellent and Streep remains unrivaled at the top of the tree and Hanks as solid as ever, the warm and loved lead cast you would expect in this genre of film. It’s a fitting film in the time of Trump and his b*llshit.
One critic would be that I would have liked to have known more information what was in those papers. As a non American I don’t really know this story so a more intellectual and nuanced film would have been nice. It ended up a film about moral grandstanding, a much thinner slice of cake.
It cost $50 million to make and looks good on it and did $180 million back, not too bad for an Oscar winner aimed at an older audience hat don’t go to the pictures a much. Saying that there was enough here to be entertained and although Spielberg did the bare minimum I’m now a little wise to events as I was with his movies like Bridge of Spies and Munich.
The Post ends where All The Presidents Men begins, The Watergate thing, and no doubt that movie will be remade soon. The Post is one to wait for on TV at Christmas.
Imdb.com – 7.2/10.0 (101.435 votes)
Rottentomatos.com – 88% critic’s approval
Metacritic.com – 75% critic’s approval