What do you get when you combine Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg? Duh! You get one of the best films of 2017. "The Post" is the first time these stalwarts have come together to work on a movie, and, of course, selecting the publishing of the Pentagon Papers is a doozy of a project.
Katharine "Kay" Graham (Streep) is the publisher of the Washington Post. She is the first woman in the U.S. to helm a major newspaper --
a job she took over upon the death of her husband. Her strong-willed Executive Editor, Ben Bradlee (Hanks), has managed to put his hands on the classified documents exposing the lies surrounding the Vietnam War, first given to The New York Times by Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys) in June 1971. He then gave them to the national editor at the Post, Ben Bagdikian (Bob Odenkirk).
In 1966 Ellsberg is in Vietnam, writing about the war and its lack of progress. His conversation about his concerns with Defense Secretary Robert McNamara (Bruce Greenwood) goes nowhere, though McNamara does express frustration. However, when McNamara does an about-face in public about the war's possibility of success, Ellsberg takes it upon himself to release what becomes known as the Pentagon Papers.
All of this is happening around the same time the Post, always a family-owned business, is going public. Bradlee and his staff want to run with the classified reports, but Graham's advisors are cautioning against it. The decision is a difficult one, at best, made even more so because, as a female, Graham believes she is never taken seriously by her male counterparts.
But this is Streep we're talking about, and she plays the moment for all of the tension it deserves --- she's such a master at it --- even though many viewers already know the outcome. The most accomplished actor of her generation, Streep brings the perfect gravitas to this character --- a woman of the world, friends with many of the most important people of the day. As always, she's superb --- always the right movements and optimal inflections.
What's difficult to believe is that she's never worked with either Spielberg or Hanks before. They are a dynamic threesome, with Hanks matching her commanding presence with his very own. And Spielberg knows exactly how to get the most from his two stars.
"The Post" has an old-time-movie feel to it, but with Spielberg's expert touch. Watching the Post go to press after Graham and Bradlee's momentous decision is as thrilling as ever, even though it's been done in other films before. That and the before-dawn paper delivery in the streets of Washington, D.C. exemplify the creative genius of Spielberg.
It isn't all just Streep and Hanks, though. The rest of the cast, including Odenkirk, Sarah Paulson as Bradlee's then-wife, Tony, and Tracy Letts (who's having a great year) as Fritz Beebe, to name a few, is terrific, especially Odenkirk. He's so wry and he looks ideally like an editor who spends long days in an office, overstressed and perhaps under appreciated.
You simply can't go wrong with this winning combination of actors and director. And when Spielberg's long-time collaborator, John Williams, composes the score, it's an added bonus.
"The Post" could not be more timely with the current administration threatening our free press daily. When Spielberg read the first screenplay by Liz Hannah, he knew he had to make this film, and make it fast. With a re-write by Josh Singer, "The Post" is the right movie at the right time.
Opinion: Strong See It Now!
Steven Spielberg directing Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks in any film is as good as it gets. "The Post" is Streep's first collaboration with the other two cinema giants. It recreates the time when Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham faced a momentous decision regarding classified documents about the Vietnam War.
I've often thought that nobody tells a story quite like Spielberg. While "The Post" is not on a par with Spielberg's best loved films --- it lacks the emotional impact of "Schindler's List" and "Saving Private Ryan" --- it is still very entertaining as an historical drama.
After a slow start, "The Post" rolls into high gear after Graham (Streep) makes the call of her life. So much is at stake, including possible prison terms for her and editor Ben Bradlee (Hanks) for contempt of court --- not to mention freedom of the press. This film could not be more timely, with the current assault on the fourth estate and journalists, in general, in this era of Trump's "fake news" rants.
Streep, as usual, disappears into her role. She was nominated for a Golden Globe (her 31st, and she did not win), so will Oscar follow with her 21st nod? When Graham is confronted by doubting executives, she must decide whether or not to publish the Pentagon Papers. It is Streep's signature scene in the movie, and is Oscar material on its own merit. She manages to thrill us with mere words. And it doesn't hurt to see a strong woman stand up to a room full of condescending white men.
As for Hanks, he is always dependable, if not always Oscar worthy. Portraying Bradlee, he is the friend and confidante that Graham badly needs. And Chicago-area native Bob Odenkirk (known for "Breaking Bad" and "Better Call Saul") is a standout as the Post's national editor Ben Bagdikian, who was instrumental in obtaining the documents from Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys).
"The Post" may not be a blockbuster as defined by today's terms. However, it's a must-see for millennials, and any other moviegoers who did not grow up with this landmark decision.
Opinion: See It Now!