I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

The Post

THE POST is Spielberg’s newspaper movie. Specifically it’s about the Washington Post in 1971 struggling for relevance, banned from a first daughter wedding, in the process of taking an inherited family business public, when suddenly their more exalted rivals the New York Times get a court injunction for breaking the story of the Pentagon Papers (a secret study proving that the government had known for years that the war in Vietnam was unwinnable and stayed in just to put off the humiliation of a loss). Can The Post’s reporters get ahold of these Papers for themselves, will they have the balls to print a story about them, and will they get away with it? I think you know the answers, but tune in to find out how it goes down.

Like LINCOLN or MUNICH, this is one of Spielberg’s very good grown up movies that doesn’t necessarily light the world on fire, seems destined to be buried in his catalog of iconic classics, but gets some nice reviews and an “it’s an honor just to be nominated” slot in the best picture category at the Oscars. Another movie like that was BRIDGE OF SPIES, the year SPOTLIGHT won best picture. SPOTLIGHT was a good movie with a big cast doing great work in a story about the importance of journalists uncovering dangerous secrets and standing up to powerful institutions that have covered up their own complicity in atrocities. THE POST is all those things with the added bonus of being thrilling and cinematic. Spielberg might be doing a smart-people-talking-and-figuring-things-out movie, but he’s gonna do that with an eye for imagery, period detail, and visual explanations of processes: stealing and reproducing a massive document, puzzling together the order of said document when the pages get mixed up, delivering a message across town, creating the plates to actually print a newspaper, running the printing press, the list goes on.

I remember Matt Singer did a piece on Screen Crush about why SPOTLIGHT was actually well directed even though it seemed “workmanlike” to many people. THE POST won’t need a piece like that.

And yes, there are many, many scenes where it’s a bunch of dudes in ties (plus 1 woman for every 5 or 6 men) around a desk or a TV or a phone listening to somebody or talking back and forth and figuring out the different ways to fold their arms or put their hands in their pockets or on their hips or stroke their chins or hold a cup or a folder. And, being that a bunch of known actors have to be convincing as old school dudes existing in the early ’70s, it’s a symphony of wigs and retro glasses. But they make that look good.

As you can see it’s a giant cast, but the most important characters are Kay Graham (Meryl Streep, A.I.), the owner who inherited the company from her late husband, who got it from her dad; Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks, SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, CATCH ME IF YOU CAN, THE TERMINAL, BRIDGE OF SPIES), the editor who pushes back against her instincts to not rock any boats; and maybe Ben Bagdikian (Bob Odenkirk, MONKEYBONE), the reporter with a hunch that these Papers could’ve been leaked by this dude he worked with a long time ago named Dan Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys, TITUS).

We know he’s right because the movie actually opens on Ellsberg in a gun battle in ‘Nam. Creedence is playing and you think Jesus, Spielberg. Are you Robert Zemeckis? Interestingly I think Spielberg (and cinematographical life partner Janusz Kaminski [COOL AS ICE]) found a way to shoot a Vietnam war scene that doesn’t look like everybody else’s – it’s SAVING PRIVATE RYAN shaky cameras, under trees at night in the rain. It’s possible they looked at the footage and thought people wouldn’t know what war it was unless they used some Creedence or “Purple Haze” or something.

Anyway, Ellsberg goes from grunt to consultant to disgruntled when he sees firsthand that the guys at the top understand the failure of the war while they tell the public that everything’s going great. And then one day he leaves work with some, you know, office supplies.

Odenkirk, the former Saturday Night Live writer turned unlikely dramatic actor, is a great choice for this journalist who’s in a little over his head and succeeds with some skill and a bunch of dumb luck. His sketch comedy partner David Cross also plays a reporter and is on screen with him often – apparently Spielberg had no idea of their history (probly knew Cross from ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS).

My favorite thing about the movie is that when I started watching it I definitely wasn’t thinking “You know who I bet will be the most interesting character? The lady who owns the newspaper.” And yet here we are. It’s a portrait of a changing time, when some of these people are starting to realize that the overlapping social circles of media and politicians have led to a friendliness that is dangerous to the country. And Graham has maybe the two most dramatic moments in the movie, both unexpected, so SPOILER maybe. One is when she gets up the nerve to go to her long time friend, the very nice Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara (Bruce Greenwood, Guardsman #5, FIRST BLOOD) at his house and confront him about extending the war that her son died fought in. But the even more memorable one is the climax of a long, heavily orchestrated and supremely Spielbergy sequence of Bradlee calling her for permission to publish and her team of lawyers give her all the arguments of why it would be crazy and after fumbling and hedging and hesitating she meekly tells Bradlee yeah, go ahead and do it.

She has every reason to play it safe. She comes from a world where the women literally say “Well, that’s our cue,” when the men start talking politics, leave the room and go talk about wife stuff. Nobody knew that this had been boiling up inside of her. And yet it doesn’t burst out. It’s almost casual. It’s so not what they saw coming that I think some of them don’t even register that she actually said it.

(And by the way we get a cool shot of the finger pressing the button to actually turn on the presses. If you were wondering.)

At the end of the movie, after the Supreme Court win, Graham doesn’t take the credit, but then she leaves the courthouse through a crowd, and Spielberg stages it so that everyone she passes is a young woman looking at her admiringly. A gauntlet of the inspired.

I don’t want to underplay how interesting Bradlee is, though. When he finds out about the Papers, and he’s listing all the presidents who he now knows have lied about Vietnam, he hesitates before Kennedy. And he calls him “Jack.” We come to learn that this was a personal friend, as well as an icon, a martyred saint. And he’s finding out that he knew he should’ve ended the war. When Bradlee argued with Kay before all this it was about ideals and principles. It was sort of hypothetical. But this shit is devastating on a very personal level. This is a serious betrayal by his government, by his actual friends, and he will use all the powers afforded him by his profession and the Constitution to shine light on it.

This is a historical drama and it’s about Important Shit including but not limited to war, government cover-ups, freedom of the press, the importance of an independent media (and the risk of pressure from owners or shareholders), and sexism. But Spielberg doesn’t know how to do that without putting a bunch of fun scenes in there. Like the one where a random hippie dumps a giant stack of the Papers on a random reporter’s desk and he brings it in to the boss and he has trouble getting anybody to pay attention to him. Or the one where they send a kid to snoop around the New York Times to try to figure out what big story they seem to be onto. Or Bradlee’s daughter making a stack of bills selling lemonade while all the top reporters are staying at the house trying to crack the story overnight. And I guess just the story itself lends itself to great cinematic moments like Bagdikian finally connecting with Ellsberg in a motel and holy shit, there it is, dozens of stacks of paper piled all over the bed. The stolen secrets that could stop the war and/or cause both of these old work acquaintances to be crushed under the boot of the corrupt as fuck Nixon administration. Gulp.

A few beloved actors who will show up: Sarah Paulson (MVP of The People vs. O.J. Simpson) as Bradlee’s wife, Tracy Letts (author of BUG, father of LADY BIRD), Alison Brie (GLOW) as Graham’s daughter, Pat Healy from THE INNKEEPERS and Fargo cast members Carrie Coon, Jesse Plemons and Michael Stuhlbarg.

The somewhat Sorkin-like screenplay is by newcomer Liz Hannah, rewritten for Spielberg by Josh Singer, who’s actually the guy that wrote SPOTLIGHT. I hope he writes one for each of the major publications.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Monday, February 12th, 2018 at 11:41 am and is filed under Drama, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

18 Responses to “The Post”

  1. emteem/Michael Mayket

    February 12th, 2018 at 12:39 pm

    Quick correction. Kay’s son didn’t die in Vietnam. She specifically says to McNamara that he’s home now. 3 of her 4 children are still alive. Her second youngest William committed suicide last year.

    Otherwise, great review of a really good movie!

  2. Yup. I like how the movie manages to play individual moments as pieces of a thriller. Even a guy just trying to remember a phone number has intensity, and the whole thing moves really briskly.

    I saw THE POST with one of those ‘berg-haters who was just like, “Spielberg is no good. None of this technique is at all innovative.” And I’m like, “That’s because he innovated it in other movies.”

  3. emteem/Michael Mayket

    February 12th, 2018 at 12:43 pm

    Wait! How is there such a creature as a ‘berg-hater? Do they not enjoy movies?

  4. It’s a subset of film snob, typical of those who got into movies later in life (like to give oneself identity in uni or something). I feel this attitude is chilling out a bit, and more people are willing to accept him as an auteur now, but in the ’00s it was brutal.

  5. emteem/Michael Mayket

    February 12th, 2018 at 1:00 pm

    I remember a strong backlash, especially on the internet, against a lot of his late 90’s to mid-2000’s output. But, I took it as people having a stronger than rational at times reaction to those movies not living up to the unrealistic expectations of his larger than life early filmography more than hating the man’s filmography in general. I mean if you have a friend who doesn’t like Jaws or Raiders it might be time to find a new friend.

  6. Yeah, it was sort of the thing of having to look down on him because he made the most popular, mainstream movies ever. It was always dumb but these days it’s kind of hilarious because it’s so undeniably off base.

    It’s like I always say, other than a bunch of universally beloved classics like JAWS, CLOSE ENCOUNTERS, RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, E.T., SCHINDLER’S LIST and SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, and about a dozen very good movies like DUEL, SUGARLAND EXPRESS, EMPIRE OF THE SUN, JURASSIC PARK, CATCH ME IF YOU CAN, MUNICH, LINCOLN, etc., what has Spielberg really had to offer?

  7. I remember that “Spielberg has lost his touch” backlash from the last decade too and sometimes I was even part of it. I mean, that was the time when he made movies like WAR OF THE WORLDS or TERMINAL, which are, taken at face value, poop compared to the timeless masterpieces from earlier decades. Of course when you get a bit older and appreciate the filmmaking mechanics more, you come to realize that, even if WOTW is still dumb as fuck, it’s still much, much better than dumb as fuck movies by other directors, because he is a director who always 100% knows what he is doing and how to do it right.

  8. emteem/Michael Mayket

    February 12th, 2018 at 1:16 pm

    WOTW has some issues, but that opening set piece from the moment Tom Cruise walks outside and sees everybody looking up in the sky in the classic Spielberg pose until they get to his ex-wife’s place has got to be one of the better directed set pieces of the aughts.

    I realized after I posted my first comment that Kay Graham had both a husband and a son who committed suicide. It’s probably for the best she passed on before her son because that has got to be too much for one person to bear.

  9. Yeah I remember the whole ‘Spielberg ruined movies forever’ BS (accidentally derailed the JAWS thread back in the day and thus was one of the reasons I put myself in Vern-comment-exile for almost a decade in shame for bringing it up). There was a feeling that if it wasn’t for JAWS (and STAR WARS) the awesome/boring movies of the ’70’s New Hollywood movement would never have ended. As stated it’s finally dying down but it was a super popular opinion of cine-elitist not too long ago. My favorite being Troma-founder/director/sexual-deviant-defender Llyod Kaufman never missing a beat to mention how awesome movies were until Spielberg, who he feels never made a good movie ever, came in and ruined it.

  10. i think the backlash against Spielberg first began when took himself seriously enough to make Schindler’s List. The (unfair, imo) charge against him was that he was rebranding himself as this moralizing filmmaker whose movies were now somber lessons instead of wild adventures, and I think the David Spades of the era were like “Stick to the giant sharks buddy” and maybe the ghost of that attitude has followed him around in one way or another ever since. Joke is on the haters, obviously, although id stop well short of saying he hits it out of the park every time. that’s always been true though. one thing i love about Spielberg is that you can never tell going in when one of his movies is gonna be just sort of fine, and when one will be really goddamn spectacular— you’ve just got to go see them and find out. Munich and WOTW are great examples. both of those movies are flawed as fuck, and yet somehow they’re still mind-blowingly unique and intense and ahead of their time. I hope he never retires.

  11. oh whoa, sorry JeffreyJar, i didn’t see your comment before posting my own. i guess Spielberg has been dealing with waves of backlash for the course of his entire career! that’s…. kinda crazy considering how much of a natural talent he is. do you know if the feeling in the 70s was that he was a sellout who should use his innate powers to make, like, Barry Lyndon esque movies? or did people think that he just straight up sucked?

  12. I have a book of Hitchcock interviews where he says, “Look at that young man Spielberg, making the biggest money-maker ever so early in his career. How is he ever going to top that?”

    The “Jaws and Star Wars ruined movies” complaints are tired. Bad movies are what ruin movies. The ’60s and ’70s fetishists who make those complaints were due for a shakeup. But it’s the equation of Spielberg with corporate art and sentimentality that have been the really strong current. And it’s weird, because those people have obviously taken no time to study him as an artist.

  13. psychic: First off… HOW DO YOU KNOW MY REAL NAME!? TELL ME! TELL ME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    From what I can tell from the hot-take quotes of the older set who bang/banged that drum, they just felt he straight-up sucked and made non-artistically inclined movies. Pretty much the whole ‘Why would you give a shit about these DUELs and JAWS when you have BONNIE & CLYDE, GODFATHERs, CHINATOWN, MEAN STREETS, etc. Why settle for garbage when you have ART!?’ (ie ‘Genre movies (that are not from my childhood) are not ART!’ argument that still comes up today in regards to superhero movies).

    Mark: Totally agree but I would add onto that, New Hollywood darlings going from making small (cheap) critically loved movies that made their money back ten-fold to making huge budgeted movies with troubled productions and ended up being critical darlings but lost money is what killed new-Hollywood movement.

    As for being on topic: I have not seen THE POST yet but most likely will when it comes out on home video/VOD due to audience members and theaters-themselves teaching me to hate going to the movies.

  14. WAR OF THE WORLDS is definitely a flawed movie, but a flawed movie by one of our greatest filmmakers will still have something to offer. The mob scene on the dock of the ferry, the bodies floating in the river, the sequence with the lightning, the tentacle eye in the basement, the people in the cage… these are all tense, well-directed, indelible scenes. If this is what passes as down-list Spielberg, I’ll take WAR way over maudlin shit like HOOK.

  15. I’m not as high on this movie as Vern, but it was definitely real good. I think I liked it more than BRIDGE OF SPIES, which surprised. The production design and 70s look are all excellent. The two main plot threads compliment each other well, and there’s nice sensible complications and motivations for all the people either opposed to publishing the papers or very cautious about doing it. Almost all the actors nail their parts. I’m not crazy about Tom Hanks performance in this movie, though maybe some of that is how I can’t forget Jason Robards’s (better) portrayal of Bill Bradlee in ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN. Additionally, it seemed a little heavy handed to me to start the movie with the Vietnam war scene and end it with the watergate break in, like practically everyone knows the stakes you can just get into the telling the story. Additionally, while reading out part of the Supreme Court opinion was accurate it was a little bit hitting us in the face with the message of the movie that was already clearly there; same goes for the image of all the women parting in the crowd for Kay, which felt a bit corny. I know some people thought the same thing about the shaking of the printing press, but I actually liked that so maybe this is just a tiny bit of nitpitcking to what’s an undeniably well made movie and imo definitely a deserving Oscar nominee.

    I think another layer to the people who don’t like Spielberg is that they think he’s too conventional. And that seems very strange to me considering if you look at his filmography over the past 10-15 years, he’s made a lot of the types of movies that all the JAWS and ET haters wanted to accuse him of helping push out of Hollywood.

  16. I guess I could see The Post but I decided that I need to see Den of Thieves on the big screen. I’m weird.

  17. I think it’s totally fair to take him to task for his latter day sentimantalism and like, using John W to triple-underline every emotional beat and such. But, gun to my head, Spielberg is THE grandmaster of filmatism. I mean, telling a story through the visual medium? Spielberg. Fucking period. The end.

  18. I am a lifetime lover of Spielberg, and try and see all his movies in the theater. Some are better than others, of course, but ALL are very worth seeing.

    I am pretty good friends with a die hard hater. Hater from the begining. He’s older than me, and I think hated him right from JAWS. He refused to see Raiders for years, claiming “nothing about it interested him.”

    I used to debate this, now I just ignore it. And some other mutual friend forced him to see Raiders in a recent revival and I think he begrudgingly liked it…and he mentioned he liked LINCOLN at some point….so he may have seen the light.

    But one really odd thing about this particular guy…he has really mainstream tastes otherwise. He compaires and contrasts the current superhero movies all day (and likes most of them), is way into Star Trek, delves deep in Dr. Who fan theories. And I never really hear him waxing philosphical over really strange cutting and surrealism and gritty realism and other things…movies like Henry Jaglom or early Denis Hopper or whatever other 70s master that actually did kind of make a type of movie that stopped. He’s mainstream franchise all the way.

    All I can think is, he must have read a review when he was still very impressionable, that Speilberg meant the death of cinema or something…and it really stuck. Brainwashed by it in a way.

    I like this guy as a friend, but he is frustratingly ignorant on this aspect. I always had that reaction to the anti Spielberg crowd…”So, you don’t like movies???”

Leave a Reply

XHTML: You can use: <a href="" title=""> <img src=""> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <b> <i> <strike> <em> <strong>