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edge staff writer


‘The Post’ delivers

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If you were to go into a filmmaking laboratory with the sole task of creating a prestige movie, you’d probably wind up with something very much like “The Post.”

True story of historical import? Check. One with themes that resonate with the current cultural landscape? Check. A director with a filmography rife with acclaim both critical and commercial? Check. A pair of lead performers considered to be among their generation’s finest? Check. An ensemble cast of notable character talent? Check.

It’s all here. Everything that you need for a critically-acclaimed awards contender … and “The Post” has already proven to be that. As indicated above, it checks all the boxes. Honestly, it’s so well-assembled that it should feel formulaic – but it doesn’t. Instead, it’s a taut and compelling drama, one whose central conceit is almost eerily reflected in our current climate.

It’s the story of the publication of the Pentagon Papers, a decades-long academic study commissioned by the United States government regarding the situation in Vietnam. The study’s findings were at odds with the actions taken by the U.S. - from Presidents on down the line.

In 1971, the Washington Post is in a time of transition. Publisher Kay Graham (Meryl Streep, “Florence Foster Jenkins”) is looking to take the company public even as she struggles to deal with the institutional sexism that views her as less capable due to her gender. The Post’s editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks, “The Circle”) is a hard-nosed no-nonsense newsman whose passion for his job burns hot.

When the New York Times begins publishing stories based on leaked pages from the Pentagon Papers, they’re taken to court by the government. However, the Times isn’t the only paper looking to make such a play. Reporter Ben Bagdikian (Bob Odenkirk, TV’s “Better Call Saul”) manages to make a connection with the original leaker - an analyst named Dan Ellsburg (Matthew Rhys, TV’s “The Americans”) – and get his hands on the papers.

Bradlee and his team – Bagdikian, Meg Greenfield (Carrie Coon, TV’s “Fargo”), Howard Simons (David Cross, “Kung Fu Panda 3”) and more - are in a race against time. They have mere hours before the paper goes to press, and if they wait, they risk being hamstrung by the court’s decision regarding the Times. But other Post higher-ups – Graham’s trusted advisor Fritz Beebe (Tracy Letts, “Lady Bird”) and board member Arthur Parsons (Bradley Whitford, “Get Out”) chief among them – are concerned about the legal and financial implications of publishing.

From there, it’s up to Graham to decide whether the Post should publish, potentially going against the government of the United States. It’s a decision that, if it goes poorly, could lead to imprisonment for herself, Bradlee and others … as well as the end of the Washington Post.

“The Post” recounts one of the most important turning points in the recent history of American journalism. The battle between the press and the President (Nixon, in this case) had never before come to such loggerheads – it was a moment in time that in many ways defined what Americans would expect from their journalists in the years to come.

Spielberg has previously demonstrated his ability to capture these sorts of real-life people, places and events and render them faithfully while also contextualizing them in such a way as to connect them to the times in which his films are made. “The Post” is another example of those gifts being put into play. Granted, he once again succumbs to his need to use the opening and closing minutes to baldly state that context – an odd tic in an otherwise exceptional sense of narrative – but it’s no big deal. The story itself is as engaging and well-wrought as his typical fare.

It doesn’t hurt that he’s got a couple of cinematic titans leading the way. Meryl Streep continues to put her greatness on display, fidgeting with her glasses and struggling to make herself heard in a way that captures Graham’s discomfort with the status quo even as she imbues the character with a quiet, steely core of strength. Her every turn is a master class – this one is no exception. Hanks portrays Bradlee with suitable bombast, the archetypal newsman who desires nothing more than the story. He is unapologetically coarse and fiercely loyal. The scenes of the two together are electric – it’s remarkable that they’ve never shared the screen before, but it was worth the wait.

Meanwhile, the rest of the ensemble finds plenty of places to shine. Odenkirk is outstanding as Bagdikian – he captures the essence of the shoe-leather reporter beautifully. Coon is another talent who – while perhaps underutilized here – takes advantage of her moments. Cross gives a surprisingly subdued performance. Letts, Whitford, Rhys – they’re all good. Everyone is good, no matter how much or how little time they spend on screen.

In the end, “The Post” is a custom-made Oscar contender. Had it been made even five years ago, its Best Picture victory would be all but assured. The landscape has shifted to an extent; this film might be a bit too old-fashioned to capture the attention it might have in the past. It likely won’t win anything, though it’ll surely get a handful of nominations. Still, that doesn’t mean it isn’t a good and worthwhile and timely film, a well-made movie featuring a compelling narrative and exceptional performances.

Never doubt the power of the press.

[5 out of 5]


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