It was a bit disconcerting when Deadline reported in March that Steven Spielberg was making a film about the decision of the Washington Post to publish the Pentagon Papers . After all, the New York Times was the newspaper that first obtained the 7,000-page secret study of the Vietnam War and extracted large portions of its shocking revelations. The Message picked up the ball after President Richard Nixon won a court order to block the Times from printing any other delivery, but in the scheme of things, this was a bar side of the main story.
But it turns out that Spielberg was in something. The Post (which opens in a limited release on December 22 before a wider release on January 12) is not just a fabulous movie but a work of art or entertainment as relevant as anyone could expect for this season of the Oscars. Although it is based on events that took place 46 years ago, it is a celebration of civic virtues that need to be promoted now: a free and combative press, an independent judiciary and a woman who finds her voice and purpose in a world ruled by men.
While I was watching it at a press screening at the end of November, I thought that Spielberg had had a good-time accident since he must have signed up for the project before the elections last year. But as the Wall Street Journal recently reported, he read the script (by Liz Hannah, a 31-year-old stranger who had presented him in a timely manner) only last spring, hired Josh Singer (who wrote Spotlight ) to do a rewrite, started filming on Memorial Day and finished editing it a few weeks ago. He pushed the project at such a rapid pace, setting aside another film he had been doing, precisely because he recognized that the story contained such urgent and timely topics. In short, for his 30 th feature film, the most successful commercial filmmaker in Hollywood has created a spicy piece of agitprop, a call for resistance in the era of Donald Trump.
Make the big picture and many details, too.
The history of the Pentagon Papers is full of so much drama that it is surprising that no major filmmaker has intervened until now. (A 2009 documentary about Ellsberg, The most dangerous man in America is pretty good.) A 2003 television movie, starring James Spader as Ellsberg, is almost below consideration.) And there are so many Possible angles: the story of Ellsberg himself, the disillusioned defense analyst who photocopied and leaked the documents, which revealed the ignorance and lies that led the United States to enter and escalate the war; the history of the newspapers that published the leak, defying the pressure of the White House; and the subsequent judicial battles, which lead to the triumph of the First Amendment and the transformation of American journalism.
Surprisingly, The Post manages to trace all these angles and dive deep into several. More than that, it has a good image and many details, too.
It is true, for example, that in 1971, when history began, the Washington Post was a provincial newspaper, endowed with talented journalists and directed by a cauldron of ambition and charisma: the executive editor , Ben Bradlee, who was obsessed with increasing the national profile of the newspaper to compete with the New York Times . When Nixon's restraining order blocked