Parkland Press

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Movie Review: ‘The Post’ puts a 30 on it

Tuesday, January 23, 2018 by Paul Willistein in Focus

For ink-stained wretches like yours truly (in my 50th year of journalism), “The Post” is a nostalgia trip, set in 1971 when budding young journalists emerged from the then Newhouse School of Journalism at Syracuse University and other institutions of higher-learning fueled by what was going on at The Washington Post and the New York Times.

“The Post,” an Oscar picture nominee, tells the story of the publishing of the Pentagon Papers from an insider’s perspective of Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham (played to note-perfection by Meryl Streep, who received an Oscar actress nomination for the role and is a three-time Oscar recipient, actress, “The Iron Lady,” 2011; “Sophie’s Choice,” 1983; “Kramer Vs. Kramer, 1980) and Post editor Ben Bradle (an astounding Tom Hanks, two-time Oscar recipient, actor, “Forrest Gump,” 1995; “Philadelphia,” 1994).

The movie-goer gains insight into Graham’s ascendancy at the Post following the death of her husband at a time when female journalists were often relegated to writing for the Society pages or editing the Women’s section, which Graham transformed into the Style section, presaging lifestyle sections in newspapers coast to coast.

The Post was undertaking a stock offering, and pursuit of controversy, legal or, regarding publication of the Pentagon Papers, initially illegal, could jeopardize that in the eyes and wallets of the newspaper’s lawyers and board of directors.

There were social alliances between Graham and Bradlee and the Nixon Administration, notably with U.S. Secretary of State Robert McNamara (a spot-on Bruce Greenwood), who at first had the most credibility to lose with publication of the Pentatgon Papers.

Add to this The Post’s rivalry with the New York Times, as The Post struggled to become a national media force rather than Washington, D.C.’s local newspaper.

A lot was riding on the decision to publish (or not) the Pentagon Papers, a voluminous top-secret CIA report about the handling of the Vietnam War by the Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson administrations, and which were leaked by former RAND Corp. military analyist Daniel Ellsberg (an excellent Matthew Rhys).

“The Post” director Steven Spielberg (Oscar, director, “Saving Private Ryan,” 1999; Oscar, picture, “Schiindler’s List,” 1994; Irving Thalberg Oscar, 1987) conveys the drama, intra-company disputes and bonhomie of reporters, editors and, yes, copy boys, who rolled up their sleeves and got the job done.

The screenplay, co-written by Liz Hannah (feature-film screenplay debut) and Josh Singer (Oscar recipient, original screenplay, “Spotlight,” 2016; screenwriter, “The Fifth Esate,” 2013; writer, TV’s “The West Wing,” 2003-2006), captures the tension, not without dollops of newsroom humor, of the challenging assignment.

Noteworthy in supporting roles: Sarah Paulson (Ben Bradlee’s wife, Antoinette), Bob Odenkirk (Post assistant editor Ben Bagdikian), Tracy Letts (Post board chairman Fritz Beebe), Bradley Whitford (Post board member Arthur Parsons) and Carrie Coon (Post reporter Meg Greenfield).

The cinematography by Janusz Kaminski (two-time Oscar recipient, cinematography, “Saving Private Ryan,” 1999; “Schindler’s List,” 1994) tends toward 1970s brown tones. The music by John Williams (five-time Oscar recipient, score, “Schindler’s List”; “E.T.,” 1984; “Star Wars,” 1978; “Jaws, 1976; “Fiddler on the Roof,” 1972) augments the brisk pace.

Production design by Rick Carter (Oscar, production design, “Lincoln,” 2013; Oscar, art direction, “Avatar,” 2010) captures the manual typewriter-clacking, cigarette and cigar-smoking, vacuum tube (whisking edited copy to the typesetters) newsroom; lintotype-setting machines; newspapers rolling in serpentine rivers off the mighty presses, and delivery trucks zooming out to plunk their precious newspaper bundles on the streets.

The costume design by the Lehigh Valley’s Ann Roth (Oscar, costume design, “The English Patient,” 1997) replicates the nerdy glasses, shirts, ties and pants of the males and the efficient dresses and pants suits of the few women on staff.

“The Post” recounts an important lesson about the First Amendment then as now, reminding us why those annoying journalists and media types ply their trade on international, federal, state and local news beats.

If you’re not familiar with this episode in American history and journalism, “The Post,” an The American Film Institute 2017 Top 10 “Movie of the Year” and the National Board of Review “Best Film of 2017,” is a must-see. If you are reading this in your newspaper or on a screen, and lived through the Watergate Era, “The Post” is a reminder of the crucial role of newspaper journalists and the media.

To quote the Simon and Garfunkel song, “Bookends” (1968): “Time it was. And what a time it was. It was. A time of innocence, A time of confidences. Long ago, it must be, I have a photograph. Preserve your memories; They’re all that’s left you.”

That time is still here, albeit, in different platforms.

“The Post,” MPAA rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13. Parents are urged to be cautious. Some material may be inappropriate for pre-teenagers.) for language and brief war violence; Genre: Biography, Drama, History; Run time: 1 hr., 56 min.; Distributed by Twentieth Century Fox.

Credit Readers Anonymous: “The Post” was filmed in White Plains and New Rochelle, N.Y., and at Columbia University, New York City.

Box Office, Jan. 19: Freedom High School graduate Dwaye Johnson made it as three-peat at No. 1, three weeks in a row after two weeks at No. 2, with $20 million, $316.9 million, five weeks, keeping Chris Hemsworth’s Afghanistan fact-based war drama, “12 Strong,” debuting at No. 2, with $16.5 million, one week, and the crime film, “Den Of Thieves” opening at No. 3, with $15.3 million.

4. “The Post” dropped one slot, with $12.1 million, $45.1 million, five weeks. 5. “The Greatest Showman” continued at No. 5, with $11 million, $113.4 million, five weeks. 6. ”Paddington 2” climbed up one spot, $8.2 million, $25 million, two weeks. 7. “The Commuter” dropped four tracks, with $6.6 million, $25.7 million, two weeks. 8. “Star Wars: Episode VIII - The Last Jedi” zoomed down two slots, $6.5 million, $604.2 million, six weeks. 9. “Insidious: The Last Key” notched down five places, $5.9 million, $58.7 million, three weeks. 10. “Forever My Girl,” $4.7 million, opening.

Unreel, Jan. 26:

“Maze Runner: The Death Cure.” PG-13: Wes Ball directs Rosa Salazar, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Dylan O’Brien, and Kaya Scodelario in the Science-Fiction-Thriller. Thomas is on a mission to find a cure for the deadly disease, the “Flare.”

“Hostiles,” R: Scott Cooper directs Scott Shepherd, Rosamund Pike, Ava Cooper, and Stella Cooper in the Western. In the late 1800s, an Army captain escorts a Cheyenne chief and his family.

This review is dedicated to the late John Strohmeyer, a Pulitzer Prize-winner of whom it was said when he was editor of the Bethlehem Globe-Times to reporters there: “You aren’t worthy enough to carry his typewriter.”

Three Popcorn Boxes out of Five Popcorn Boxes