Steven Spielberg’s ‘The Post’ is an Old School Movie with a Modern-Day Message Against ‘Fake News’

A Blueprint Film Review


It seems that Steven Spielberg is on a quest to make a movie about every major conflict in human history. His examination of wartime has stretched from a pre-Civil War America all the way to the Holocaust in Europe. Then came the blood-soaked beaches of Normandy, the  infamous Olympic Village in Munich, the muddy trenches of France, and finally, the paranoid streets of a divided Berlin. Now, he tackles the Vietnam War in “The Post,” which not only proves that Spielberg is the greatest living director working today, but also that the 71-year-old filmmaker is still a relevant force to be reckoned with.

The film tells the story of the Pentagon Papers, a study commissioned by the Department of Defense, which showed that the U.S. government knew for decades the war in Vietnam was unwinnable. From Truman to Nixon, however, whole battalions of men were still being sent to Indochina to die for a lost cause just to avoid an American embarrassment. Leaked by Daniel Ellsberg (whose parents were Ashkenazi Jews), the papers made headlines in the early 1970s, but the Nixon administration did its best to block the dissemination of the study’s contents, citing national security as justification for attempting to sue newspapers like The New York Times.

A timely story in the era of “fake news,” the movie begins in 1966 where Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys) is observing the ground troops in Vietnam to CCR’s “Green River” (the only period-specific music). When he gets back to America, he lifts the Pentagon Papers from the Rand Corporation and we fast forward to 1971 when the New York Times and The Washington Post found themselves against the full might of the presidency as they fight to publish the study.

Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks are great (per usual) as WashPo owner Katherine Graham and its stalwart executive editor, Ben Bradlee. Streep in particular gives a strong performance as a woman surrounded by a patriarchy that doesn’t trust her decision-making. But it’s really the side characters who shine, particularly Bob Odenkirk’s reporter Ben Bagdikian and Sarah Paulson’s Atoinette Bradlee. With a star-studded cast, it might be hard to get lost for a smaller role to get lost in all the greatness, but no in Spielberg’s capable hands. Jesse Plemons, David Cross, Bruce Greenwood and Alison Brie are all memorable long after the credits have rolled.

Cinematographer Janusz Kamiński’s curious camera becomes the viewer, strolling through a buzzing newsroom or peeking through the curtains into the Oval Office where a scheming Nixon fumes at the press. The movie isn’t just entertaining, it’s alive and nerve-wracking, despite our knowing how the story ends.

Drawing from the investigative journalistic features of yore (“All The President’s Men” being the major influence) “The Post” crackles with a certain energy and graininess you just don’t see anymore. This is an old-school style of movie about the importance of our constitutional rights and the risks we must sometimes take in order to protect them. So, when a counter top rumbles ever so slightly, it doesn’t signify the approach of a T-Rex, but the First Amendment hard at work -- it’s actually just the printing presses running in the basement.

As for the time period, the social upheaval and mistrust of the government are both on display. Reporters have to call their sources from payphones and look over their shoulders because the feds could be watching (or listening to) their every move. Spielberg immerses you in the decade, whether he’s showing us a street at early dawn lined with retro cars or an anti-Vietnam hippie protest. Every shot, every frame, every cut is in service of telling the story. All the while, John Williams’ fantastic score swells from ominous to uplifting, the perfect Spielbergian accompaniment.

The surprisingly -- almost twist-like - -cliffhanger ending is clearly a jab at Trump, assuring the audience that even the most powerful men are not above retribution. As Nixon says he doesn’t want any Washington Post reporters at the White House anymore, security guard Frank Wills enters the offices of the Democratic National Committee (a movie in and of itself).

You may find it staggering that the movie only took six months to make. For half a century, Spielberg has been honing his craft to the point where he knows exactly what he wants to make and how to make it. He elicits all the right beats from his actors and makes sure the camera lets the audience in on the secret. “The Post” isn’t about the dying form of print communication. Rather, it’s about the power of the American people and the way in which they control the fate of those who lead them, not the other way around. And when Spielberg is controlling that message, the truths are self-evident.

The Post

steven spielberg

tom hanks

Pentagon Papers

Meryl Streep

Vietnam War

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