Combustible Celluloid
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With: Tom Hanks, Meryl Streep, Bruce Greenwood, Matthew Rhys, Bob Odenkirk, Michael Stuhlbarg, Sarah Paulson, Tracy Letts, Bradley Whitford, Alison Brie, Jessie Mueller, Jesse Plemons, David Cross, Carrie Coon, Zach Woods, Pat Healy
Written by: Liz Hannah, Josh Singer
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for language and brief war violence
Running Time: 115
Date: 12/25/2017

The Post (2017)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Paper Chase

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Screenwriter Josh Singer scored with Spotlight (2015), an amazingly smart, suspenseful, balanced newspaper movie with strong characters and a passion for journalism. Though everyone agreed it was a terrific movie, it was also agreed that director Tom McCarthy's visualization was a little on the ordinary side. Steven Spielberg, who I think is unquestionably one of the greatest living filmmakers, has never had such limitations, and he takes Singer's follow-up screenplay The Post — co-written with Liz Hannah — and turns it into a rich, dynamic cinematic tapestry worthy of his best films. It's exciting and essential, and one of my favorite films of 2017.

Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks share the screen, surprisingly, for the first time ever, as Kay Graham, publisher of the Washington Post, circa 1971, and as executive editor Ben Bradlee. The New York Times has published the Pentagon Papers, which shows the government's true view of the Vietnam War, as opposed to the official version sold to the public. Bradlee wants to get his hands on the papers as well, realizing that the reams of pages could yield dozens of stories.

Reporter Ben Bagdikian (Bob Odenkirk) has a source that bears fruit, but then the Post finds itself tangled up in the same supreme court case as the Times, a case of freedom of the press versus national security. President Nixon (represented here with actual voice recordings, embodied by a silhouetted actor viewed from a distance through a window) of course believes the press should rot; it's an opinion that seems shared by today's president. (This makes The Post one of the most relevant movies of our turbulent 2017.)

Spielberg doesn't bother with courtroom battles, focusing mainly on the ground-level jobs of reporters, holding tense meetings, shuffling through papers, searching for connections. In a funny Spielbergian touch, Bradlee's young daughter ramps up her lemonade stand business by selling glass after glass to the feverish reporters scattered about her family's living room. A great cast rounds things out, but — as with Spielberg's somewhat similar Lincoln — their services are used more as flavoring than as main dishes.

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