Meryl Streep fantastic in moving, timely ‘The Post’


By Jenniffer Wardell

Rated PG-13 for language and brief war violence

Written by Liz Hannah and Josh Singer

Directed by Steven Spielberg

Starring Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Sarah Paulson, Bob Odenkirk, Tracy Letts, Bradley Whitford and more

Grade: Three and a half stars

 

History is a cycle, and some of the most relevant stories for today can be found in the past.

Steven Spielberg, arguably one of the best storytellers in Hollywood, has proven that once again with this weekend’s “The Post.” The story of the Washington Post’s battle to expose government cover-ups in the 1970s, the movie has all the gloss and well-made packaging you’d expect from a Spielberg film.

At the same time, however, there’s an insightful and frighteningly timely look at the choice between getting chummy with a corrupt government and fighting back against the cover-ups. It’s so easy to smile and go along, the movie admits, but what will it cost you in the end.

The movie is set in the 1970s, and kicks off with the release of the Pentagon Papers. These leaked documents, which detailed America’s decades-long cover-up about Vietnam, were sent to several national papers in the hopes they would inspire stories. The Post wasn’t the first to publish them – that distinction went to the New York Times – but after the government moved to stop the Times from publishing they were faced with a choice. Did they publish and risk incurring the government’s wrath, or did they stay silent and keep the investors happy?

One of the movie’s biggest advantages is the way it makes clear that the choice wasn’t a simple one. Not only because of the consequences, but because the main characters had already spent a long time turning a blind eye to unpleasantness in order to maintain the polite social veneer. Both Streep and Hanks’ characters consider various politicians associates, and even friends, and when the papers come out they realize they’ve let themselves be lied to for years.

It’s that all-too-understandable reality that makes Hanks’ impassioned, deeply regretful speech on the topic so powerful and so relevant for today’s audiences. It’s so much easier to look away from the bad things our government officials do, but we pay the price for it.

On a character level, however, the real star of the movie is Meryl Streep’s Kat Graham. She was the head of a newspaper at a time when such a position was unheard of for women, but she got there only because of her husband’s untimely death. Streep has her blossom slowly, realizing inch by gradual inch that she’s so much more than the housewife she was raised to be. Men swarm around her constantly in the film, many of them attempting quite firmly to tell her what to do, and it’s a wonderfully empowering moment when she ignores them and steps into her true power.

And, just as importantly, her responsibility. Streep does an excellent job portraying Graham’s struggle to decide exactly what that responsibility is, whether her greatest loyalty should be to her family, business or profession. It’s a more nuanced look at women and power than Hollywood normally bothers to give us, and it’s richly rewarding to watch it unfold onscreen.

Of course, the movie isn’t perfect. Spielberg is a fantastic director, but he can’t seem to stop himself from polishing everything he does to a particular Spielbergian sheen. Though it makes for a nice shiny movie, “The Post” would have benefited from a little grit.

Still, there’s a lot “The Post” has to offer. There’s even a surprisingly hilarious ending, context and Spielberg’s deft touch turning history into a dark joke that’s a perfect closing note.

(Picture © 20th Century Fox)

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