December 11, 2023

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Watson Reviews: The Post


In an era where the media is under constant attack, and leaders around the world call the legitimate press “fake news”, comes a timely film by Steven Spielberg. Did the film live up to the relevance and importance of the moment?

Spielberg’s film tells the true story of the publisher, editor, and staff of the Washington Post, a paper we now view as a journalistic icon, but which before the events of this film and the later Watergate reporting, was a third rate “local” circulation seeking relevancy.

As the events of this film depict, they first found that relevancy by bucking the Nixon administration and publishing The Pentagon Papers, a cache of documents detailing the real story of the Vietnam war; which were in stark contrast to the details the American people had been fed for decades.

In the face of prosecution and financial ruin, Katherine Graham (portrayed by multiple Oscar winner, Meryl Streep) and Ben Bradley (portrayed by multiple Oscar winner Tom Hanks) heroically bring the truth to an unsuspecting public.

I enjoyed The Post but it wasn’t groundbreaking.  I recently read a review that Gary Oldman’s Darkest Hour was a shoe-in to win Best Picture…if it came out in the mid-90s.  I felt that way a little with this film.  The script and even Spielberg’s direction sometime felt a little “schmaltzy.”  Like the movie was a little dated…to fit the era of the actual events.

Against this somewhat classic backdrop you couldn’t ask for a better male lead. Tom Hanks gives his best Jimmy Stewart as the legendary editor, Ben Bradlee.  This is neither a compliment nor an insult.  Hanks is fine, but not really Best Actor worthy.  He provided nothing new that he hasn’t delivered before or which Jason Robards didn’t nail 40 years ago.    He was fun, chewed the scenery, and was enjoyable, but I never forgot he was Tom Hanks.

Meryl Streep on the other hand was a revelation.  I remember watching Katherine Graham in interviews before she died in 2001.  By then she was a business, journalism, and feminist icon who you believed would gracefully reach across the desk and rip Larry King’s heart out and eat it as he bled out if she needed to do so.

The Post tells of Graham before she become KATHERINE FUCKING GRAHAM.  Early in the film, Streep’s Graham is mousy, deferential to the male handlers around her, and lacking the confidence to speak up even though she was the boss.  She was comfortable only as the socialite widow hosting elegant dinner parties at her Georgetown mansion.

Streep’s transformation into the woman world leaders would admire and fear was marvelous.  As she shifts from puppet to puppet master, Streep moves the viewer along inch by inch.  By the time Graham decides she is the boss, in a scene where she is surrounded by “The Men” in her dining room, we too are so exhausted that we would also want to go to bed!  Certainly worthy of a nomination, and in a different year, a win.

A strong cast surrounded Streep and Hanks including Sarah Paulson, Michael Stuhlbarg, (he could be in three Best Picture nominees this year if this, Shape of Water, and Call Me By Your Name are all nominated!) Tracy Letts (also in Lady Bird and the writer of the worst play I saw this year), Bradley Whitford, and the always excellent Bruce Greenwood as Bob McNamara.

Standing out from the supporting actors in the film is Bob Odenkirk as Pulitzer Prize winning reporter Ben Bagdikian.  In their HBO sketch series Mr. Show with Bob and David, and in the years immediately following, it looked as if David Cross was the Hanks and Bob was the Peter Scolari of the pair.  But since his star making turn as Saul Goodman in Breaking Bad and his ongoing spinoff, Better Call Saul, Odenkirk has outdone his Arrested Development starring comedy partner.  Add this to his resume of scene stealing performances.

David Cross also appears in the film…

It seems we are getting a lot more 70s era biopic films as we get some distance from that decade and the participants of big events pass away and do not need to sign over their rights.  It continues to be enjoyable to revisit the era and watch as my son tried to understand important people needing to find a landline, not knowing what the news was until the paper was physically delivered, or how typesetting was required to print papers instead of magic lasers of today.

The ending of the film sets up the next big challenge in the lives of Graham and Bradlee:  Watergate.  As the credits rolled, I realized two things (1) Katherine Graham was quite ready to handle that challenge and (2) These day, even historical biopics want to set up the sequel and create a shared universe….

Overall, I give The Post 8.5 Oyez,Oyez,Oyez out of 10.