Spielberg delivers in 'The Post'

Steven Spielberg-directed film "The Post" is about the Pentagon Papers starring Tom Hanks, Meryl Streep and a murderer's row of all your favorite television character actors.
Spielberg delivers in 'The Post'

Tom Hanks (left) starring Ben Bradlee and Meryl Streep starring Katharine Graham in a scene from “The Post”

Steven Spielberg-directed film “The Post” is about the Pentagon Papers starring Tom Hanks, Meryl Streep and a murderer’s row of all your favorite television character actors: Jesse Plemons, Bob Odenkirk, Carrie Coon and Sarah Paulson. 

That Spielberg shot and is releasing it in under a year was perhaps the only potential handicap. Would it feel rushed? Unfinished? The astonishing thing is that while there are a few clunkers (as if a parody, the film actually opens in Vietnam to the sound of helicopters and Creedence Clearwater Revival), on the whole “The Post” is meat and potatoes Spielberg in the best possible way.

He is directing off of a script from first time screenwriter Liz Hannah and Josh Singer, who also wrote the investigative journalism drama “Spotlight.” Instead of reporting on the drama that led to the Pentagon Papers being exposed, “The Post” focuses on the Washington Post executives who risked everything to make it happen. 

Streep plays Katharine Graham, the Post’s new publisher, who is taking her family’s paper public in an effort to save it. Hanks is the editor, Ben Bradlee, who is trying to elevate it from hometown rag to rival The New York Times. We meet them both when the most pressing matter is that they’ve been banned from covering Tricia Nixon’s wedding. Then The New York Times comes out with their first story about the damning Vietnam report and everything changes.

The film begins on Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys) in Vietnam, and the moment he decides that he can’t handle the lies of Robert McNamara (Bruce Greenwood), who in private says that things are devolving in the war, but then boasts to the press that things are improving. 

“The Post” is not much more than people talking, Spielberg infuses every scene with tension and the grandeur of the ordinary. At the heart of the story is Graham, an obviously smart and capable woman who is full of doubt, and is doubted by nearly everyone around her. Her father had given the paper to her husband and when he died, she took control. As she tells her daughter (Alison Brie) midway through the film, when she took control, she was a middle-aged woman who had never held a job. 

Streep plays her with daring reserve, as she finds herself unable to speak in key meetings, or stand up for herself as her board of directors is disrespecting her in earshot.

Hanks, meanwhile, is having a ball as Bradlee, a charming and crass cad with a mission and an army of capable and doting reporters around him trying their best to get the story. 

Bradlee and Graham clash as editors and publishers do, but there is a foundation of respect there too and it is a joy to watch Hanks and Streep share the screen.

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