At this point, I get the impression that Steven Spielberg could whip up a historic drama, with or without Tom Hanks, in his sleep.
His latest, which does have Hanks as well as Meryl Streep, is The Post.
After a brief prologue in 1965 where Daniel Ellsberg (Mathew Rhys from TV’s The Americans) witnesses combat and writes a report indicating the war is unwinnable, the film jumps to 1971. The Washington Post is a deeply indebted local newspaper looking to go public in order to make some capital and stay afloat. The owner/publisher is the graceful but strong Katharine Graham (Streep), a woman finding her own way running the family company in a man’s world, taking the job formerly held by her husband and by her father. Her editor-in-chief is tough-talking New Englander Ben Bradlee (Hanks), an idealistic man she sometimes locks horns with. Graham is given to demurring out of habit and the movie deals with that as an ongoing theme, where not only does Graham, already a grandmother from the looks of things, is used to giving way, but both Graham and Bradlee have, in the past, not pressed too hard to those in positions of political power out of friendship, something that gradually comes to bother Bradlee as he realizes how much he let his late friend JFK get away with not being pushed.
Truth be told, this wasn’t a bad movie. Spielberg can put together a good film, and he’s got a topnotch cast beyond his two stars (including both Bob Odenkirk and David Cross as Post employees). The problem is that it just doesn’t seem to be doing much beyond telling a story where the outcome is known (a problem for most historic dramas), but also one that may or may not be timely. I know I heard applause twice in the closing minutes of the movie during the screening I sat though, once for an inspiration-sounding quote from the Supreme Court majority opinion and later when another Nixon scandal the Post was involved in was clearly starting. There was also laughter as Nixon stated the Post was no longer welcome at all in his White House in what sounded like actual Nixon recordings. Given we have a movie where a hostile and paranoid Presidential administration is fighting with the media, particularly the Washington Post, well, I was left wondering how many people in my crowded screening were there to see the movie on its own merits and how many were there to stick it to the man somewhere. Besides, as I said, Spielberg can do these in his sleep these days. It’s fine, but not special, even with Streep bringing the steel to a woman who has more than most people realize. Eight out of ten lemonade sale profits.
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