January 17, 2018

The Post: Hanks and Streep Co-Star in Freedom of the Press Thriller

By Kam Williams

The Post is a movie that should be compared to two classic newsroom thrillers: All the President’s Men (1976) and Spotlight (2015). Like the former, it’s set in Washington, D.C. in the 70s and is about an attempt by the Nixon administration to prevent the publication of incriminating information leaked to the Washington Post by a whistleblower. And it’s eerily similar to the Best Picture Oscar-winner Spotlight in that they’re both dramas about an idealistic newspaper’s legal battle in defense of freedom of the press.

Hollywood has a predictable habit of parroting success, which means it’s just a matter of time before a knockoff of a big hit arrives in theaters. In this case, Spotlight’s Academy Award-winning scriptwriter, Josh Singer, was tapped to tweak first timer Liz Hannah’s original screenplay about the Pentagon Papers.

So, one might expect that the production, directed by the legendary Steven Spielberg and co-starring Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep, is certainly worth seeing. However, despite the cast and crew’s impressive pedigree, it’s actually a disappointment.

The picture’s point of departure is Vietnam in 1966, which is where we find Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara (Bruce Greenwood) on a fact-finding tour. Upon returning to the states, he lies when interviewed at the airport in order to put a positive spin on the odds of America winning the war.

Fast forward five years, when military analyst Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys) becomes disillusioned by the government’s continued cover-up and turns over to the Washington Post and other publications copies of an internal top secret Department of Defense report about the war. Dubbed the “Pentagon Papers,” the files refute the unrealistically optimistic assessment about the war that is being presented to the public by the president.

The Post’s editor, Ben Bradlee (Hanks), and owner, Katharine Graham (Streep) decided to publish the documents. What ensued was a constitutional crisis that was settled by the U.S. Supreme Court which weighed the freedom of the press against President Nixon’s (Curzon Dobell) request for an injunction to prevent dissemination of the classified documents in the interest of national security.

Unfortunately, the story Spielberg chose to present is primarily a tale of female empowerment that quite frankly doesn’t ring true. Why resort to politically correct revisionist history that reflects present day values when simply ratcheting up the tension around the original landmark legal case probably would have been far more riveting?

Very Good (***). Rated PG-13 for profanity and brief violence. Running time: 115 minutes. Production Studios: Dreamworks Pictures/Amblin Entertainment/Participant Media. Distributor: 20th Century Fox.