“Can I ask a hypothetical question?” says Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks). Publisher Katherine (Kay) Graham (Meryl Streep) says, “I don’t like hypothetical questions … . But do you have the papers?” “Not yet,” says Bradlee. It’s the Pentagon Papers they’re talking about, commissioned by Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara (Bruce Greenwood) in 1965 documenting the futility of the Vietnam War since its beginning, leaked to the media by Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys), and stopped in their New York Times’ publication by President Nixon. That’s the setup for this taut political drama.
Does The Post get the 7,000 leaked pages? Will Graham okay their publication? How does the Supreme Court rule on this controversy? For answers, see director Spielberg’s excellent film.
Meryl Streep is at the top of her game as cautious Katherine Graham, inheritor of The Post from her deceased husband. Tom Hanks is gruff, gritty and gung-ho as editor Ben Bradlee, ready to publish the Papers as soon as possible. Both Graham and Bradlee want The Post to lose its reputation as a small-town, family-owned paper — she, by taking its ownership public and inviting more outsiders to its board; he, by scooping a massive, 30-year government cover-up. Kay fears Ben will destroy the paper: “We can’t hold the government accountable,” she says, “if we don’t have a paper.” “We have everything to lose,” says Ben, “if we don’t publish.”
Others in the excellent cast include Sarah Paulson as Toni Bradlee, Matthew Rhys as Daniel Ellsberg and Bruce Greenwood as Robert McNamara. Journalists at The Post include Carrie Coon, Bob Odenkirk and Tracy Letts.
“The Post,” directed by Steven Spielberg, written by Liz Hannah and Josh Singer, cinematography by Janusz Kaminski and music by John Williams is first-rate filmmaking, one of the best of 2017. It can be seen as prequel to “All the President’s Men” (1976) in which Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman, Washington Post reporters, track the Watergate burglary that leads to Nixon’s resignation. “The Post” ends with a shot of the Watergate, at night, as the burglars break in, but we know the rest of that story. Spielberg, on the other hand, is less interested in politics than he is in socialite Katherine Graham’s difficult decision, providing a showcase for Streep’s nuanced and striking performance.
Rated PG-13 for language and war violence, “The Post” runs 116 minutes. If you remember the ‘70s, it’s a must see. For the rest of us, it’s a celebration of the free press.
See “The” Washington “Post,”
Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks —
History, timely, smart —
To director Spielberg — “Thanks.”