It's hard to believe that it was only twelve months ago when after having read a copy of the Hollywood Blacklist script, The Post, that I blogged about what a fine opportunity I thought it would be for Meryl to play the film's central character, publisher Katharine Graham. Fast forward two months later, and it's announced that Steven Spielberg had signed on to direct, with Streep and Tom Hanks set to star. The film was fast-tracked into production and with filming wrapped by July, here we are at the movie's nationwide opening weekend. And what a weekend it's likely going to be.
Last night, I joined my friend Scooter for a 6:40 showing of The Post, not far from my home in Minneapolis. Despite the subzero temperatures, it was the busiest I've ever seen the large theater complex, with folks forced to wait in line after purchasing their tickets just to get inside the main area. It was nice to see that our theater was completely full.
The film starts out with a brief background on the Vietnam War, setting up the conflict that would engulf the film's plot, about whether or not the Washington Post should publish classified documents from a study that were leaked from the Pentagon. In the papers, the folly of the U.S.'s involvement is explained in some detail. Matthew Rhys (whom I adore from The Americans) gets some nice screen time here as former military analyst, Daniel Ellsberg.
Meryl of course portrays Graham, who at this time in her life and career is less than confident in her role as the paper's publisher, a role that had essentially become hers by default after her father's death and husband's suicide. The acquisition of the Pentagon Papers puts her in a tricky situation, as an injunction from the White House threatens disaster. As we all know, the Supreme Court sides with the paper and the publishing is allowed to continue.
OK, now that a brief plot synopsis is out of the way, let's get to some aspects of the film's quality. Both Scooter and I really enjoyed it and remarked at how quickly it went by, with the suspenseful pace always keeping us on the edge our seats. Meryl does an exquisite job of showing us the significant lack of confidence and almost paralyzing trepidation Graham had at making big decisions that often involved the viability of her company. Being that the paper was tied up with the history of her family, and that many on the board weren't convinced as a woman she was suitable for the job, decisions surrounding the company's fate were particularly taxing. How she transitioned throughout the movie into a decisive boss was enjoyable to experience. It was by no means a broad or showy performance. Instead, it was measured, subtle and touching. In the original version of the script I had read, there was a moving speech that she gave in front of the court which I was looking forward to seeing, but sadly was either cut after filming, or cut completely from the screenplay. I wonder if it seemed a bit too "on the nose" to keep in the film.
Tom Hanks similarly does a fine job as editor Ben Bradlee. A lot of people have complained about Hanks's somewhat affected speech patterns in the role, but I never felt distracted by his choices, and thought his moments were Meryl were strong and at times funny. A standout was Bob Odenkirk as journalist Ben Bagdikian, who manged to acquire the papers from Daniel Ellsberg and was instrumental in the ultimate decision to publish.
Regular Spielberg collaborator Janusz Kaminski provided an aura of the 1970s with an almost glossy effect in many scenes, highlighting the smoke-filled, often neutral tones of that era. John Williams's rousing score contributes to the sort of time-crunch angst we feel in their race against the clock. And there's probably not much left to say that hasn't been said about Spielberg. While the film is often intense and fast-paced, we get a real sense of intimacy with the characters and their struggle through the grueling and likely terrifying process of first acquiring the papers, deciphering them and then waiting to learn their fates in the aftermath of publishing. Scooter and I both enjoyed and appreciated the shots of how a newspaper is physically pulled together in the shop for each printing. For something that is as ubiquitous as a daily paper, that was a process neither of us had ever really seen before on screen.
The film is a perfect allegory to the preposterous political environment in which we currently find ourselves. Using real recordings of phone conversations of former president Richard Nixon was a painful comparison to what is so evident in today's administration and its constant attacks on the free press. The Post was an important reminder that the first amendment right of free speech is excellently demonstrated in journalistic integrity. As justice Hugo Black opined in the Supreme Court's 6-3 ruling, "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."
I'm glad Meryl was able to participate in the making of this movie.