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Mario Bautista, has been with the entertainment industry for more than 4 decades. He writes regular columns for People's Journal and Malaya.

Feb 23, 2018

The Post Movie Review: Meryl Streep Gives Another Great Portrayal In A Film That Is A Testament To Steven Spielberg's Great Skills In Being An Excellent Story Teller On Screen

‘THE POST’ is a testament to Steven Spielberg’s great skills in being an excellent story teller on screen. The events portrayed here have happened almost 50 years ago and we already know the outcome. And yet, he still manages to make it totally riveting and be quite a pulse-pounding thriller.

In 1971, the New York Times published the Pentagon Papers, classified documents about the involvement of the USA in the Vietnam War. The government of then Pres. Richard Nixon blocked it with a court order that stops them from further publishing it. Spielberg’s movie focuses on The Washington Post’s decision to continue what New York Times has started.

The principal characters are publisher Katherine Graham and her executive editor Ben Bradlee (played by Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks in their first film together). At first, Kay Graham is afraid that their publishing company would lose their business, as well as lucrative TV licenses, if they get convicted under espionage laws. After their first story came out, the attorney general’s office asked them to stop printing it. But they fought the case all the way to the Supreme Court... and win!

The court said the paper has the first amendment right to make such information public. Kay’s decision to publish the controversial papers produced profound revelations. It showed that various presidents had lied about the scope of the Vietnam War, which they know they couldn’t win. It also showed the significance of having a free press as a check against a corrupt government.

But the movie is not just about the papers but also the personal story of Kay Graham, who never expected to be a publisher, and Meryl Streep gives another unforgettable portrayal the way she portrayed her. She was a teenager when her father bought the Washington Post at auction in 1933. He ran the paper until 1946 and instead of making her daughter Kay, who works as a journalist, as successor, he appointed her husband, Philip Graham, who was publisher until 1963 when he killed himself.

 Traumatized by her husband’s suicide, Kay had no choice but to run the paper herself. Under her, the company prospered and she eventually became the first female CEO of a Fortune 500 company in America. She passed away in an accident when she was 84 when she fell and had head injuries while attending a media conference in Idaho. If she’d see the movie now, we’re sure she’d be pleased with the way Meryl played her on screen.

Spielberg is very detailed in re-creating the period the film portrays, from the 70s style newsroom and how newspapers were set up and printed at an era when computers were not yet in vogue. The solidly constructed screenplay is written with so much competence.

We particularly appreciate the way the late Pres. Nixon is portrayed. They wisely chose not to get a lookalike actor to play him in the two scenes where he is shown. Instead, we just see the back of a double while we hear the voice of the real president, who believes he is above the law, taken from his actual past recordings. It’s a clever ploy and makes it all sound so authentic.

Spielberg has worked with Tom Hanks in five movies before but it’s his first time with Meryl. They’re both credible and persuasive, but Tom’s portrayal is not as full of impact as that of Jason Robards, who won the Oscar best supporting actor award for also playing Ben Bradlee in “All the President’s Men”, which is about the Watergate scandal that eventually forced Nixon to resign.

It’s Meryl’s role as Kay Graham that has a clear and relatable story arc, from being a fragile and tentative CEO who seems to lack confidence to that of a resolute leader and a brave woman in a position of power. She invests the role with so much genteel dignity and elegant refinement. She shines in three distinct scenes for us, but the best is when she was the only woman in a meeting full of men and makes the decision of a lifetime to publish the Pentagon papers then declares with so much coolness: “I’m going to bed.” With that, she made the Post a bastion of investigative journalism.

In the hands of a lesser director, this kind of material could have been boring viewing since it’s not inherently cinematic. But Spielberg’s mastery of the film medium made it superb moviemaking. First, he gives the viewers who were born after the Pentagon papers enough background material to understand what is going on, then tells it on screen in a totally absorbing manner with enough dramatic tension through a very compelling character, Kay Graham, and the aggressive journalists working with her, all unsung heroes (played by a superb ensemble of supporting actors), who took the risk of going to jail by defying Nixon’s government.

Past films about investigative journalism won the Oscar best picture award, like “All the President’s Men” (about the Washington Post’s role in uncovering the 1972 Watergate scandal through reporters Woodward and Bernstein) and “Spotlight” (about corruption in the Church.) “The Post” has a much wider scope than “Spotlight”.

It comes at a time when the current US president is very adversarial in his treatment of the press and thus becomes a timely reminder on the state of the free press in their country since history tends to repeat itself. But we doubt if it would win Oscar best picture since the academy voters seem to be so much enamoured with “The Shape of Water”, a fantasy love story about an ugly PWD spinster who masturbates in the bathtub and falls in love with a siokoy. It got the most number of Oscar nominations but honestly, we can’t understand what they see in it.