"The Post" by Steven Spielberg accelerates in a pleasant, animated and punctual manner. It is an intoxicating and crowded docudrama that, with confidence and great cinematographic enthusiasm (although it is not what you would call an excess of nuances), tells a vital American story of history, journalism, politics and the way these things came together. a couple of fateful weeks in the summer of 1971. That's when The New York Times, followed by The Washington Post, published extensive excerpts from the Pentagon Papers: the secret history of the Vietnam War government that revealed, for the first time , the lies told the American people about US participation in Indochina since 1945. (The most destructive lie: the concealment of the fact that American leaders knew that war was a losing battle.)
The heart of the movie is set in The Post, where the newspaper's executive editor, Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks), with his urban scraper, his mystical aristocrat in shirt sleeves and a more forceful bite than his bark, and Katharine Graham (Meryl Streep) , the paper is astute patrician editor of the elite, they face each other like a pair of comrades in combat who do not want the fact of being on the same side to prevent them from giving a blow. Both want a big newspaper, one that shakes its image as a "local newspaper" and does more than make headlines; They want me to make history. But they do not agree on how to get there. The Bradlee rascal is like Graham's correct and correct identification: he hired him, but he can not decide whether to encourage or repress him. Their contentious camaraderie is very entertaining, as is the whole movie, which goes on like a thread of detectives for news addicts, one that rustles with the current parallels.
In 1971, after the public disclosure of the Pentagon Papers, both the Times and the Post stood firm against a precautionary measure, presented by the White House of Nixon, to stop publication of the classified documents, an attempt of legal repression that could have suffocated the Fourth State as we know it. "The Post" offers not so much a message as a warning: that press freedom is a struggle that never stops, and that the force that keeps it going is the absolute belief in that freedom. When the press begins to accept restrictions, although reluctantly, it is almost inviting to be gagged.
That's a lesson that has rarely needed to be heard as much as it does today. "The Post" is a film of great relevance, one that will almost certainly connect with a broadly inspired audience (I predict roughly $ 100 million) and with the currents of the awards season. That said, it's a powerful observable movie that is not a true work of art. Two of Spielberg's recent history films were also made in a messianic spirit of topical fervor: "Munich", a thriller of fearsome inflections that went to the post-September 11 world, and "Lincoln," a kind of dramatized time that commented our own political arena increasingly divided and divided. However, both films had a depth, a mystery and a power that transcended the moment; You could see them in 20 years and they would continue to do so. "The Post", written by Liz Hannah and Josh Singer in a way that is excessively busy and a bit too expository, is a more functional, less imaginative film: it is a high-carbohydrate docudrama prose rather than poetry. You can get excited about what you are saying and still feel that when it ends, the movie declares more than it reverberates.
The gold standard for this kind of real-life journalist historian is, of course, "All the President's Men," A film that took place in the 70s, was made in the 70s, and took advantage of the alternating current of corruption and idealism that helped define the & # 39; 70. "The Post", on the other hand, seems to be set in a fetishistic recreation of museum pieces from the 70s, with each drag of a cigarette calling too much attention (yes, many people smoked, but where is the smoky air hanging in halls ?), Too many references "casually" signaled to dinner pillars like "Scotty" Reston and Lawrence Durrell, and too many actors wearing wigs that are visibly wigs (main culprit: Michael Stuhlbarg, on a rag too bright, like New York Times executive editor Abe Rosenthal). And why Bruce Greenwood, usually an actor of supreme subtlety, blows his lines and appears as Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, the hawk in doubt who commissioned the Pentagon study and then made the strategic mistake of letting someone like Daniel Ellsberg do it. read?
The film begins with Ellsberg, played by Matthew Rhys with a thin and sad rabbinical coolness, writing notes on the Vietnam battlefield, then listening to McNamara on the return trip explaining that the war is going terribly, just to see he turns around and plays the reinforcement of the war at a press conference at the airport. Ellsberg is disgusted by both sides of American politics. Associate researcher of the Rand Corporation, has access to the 7,000 pages of the study, which spent months of contraband, photocopying and escaping the reporter Neil Sheehan of the Times.
Ben Bradlee can smell that something is happening – he realized that Sheehan has not had a cable line in three months, and the movie hooks you with the damn fervor of Bradlee's old school, which takes the form of his brazen desire to compete with the Times. When he and two of his reporters first see the history of the Pentagon Papers at a newsstand, learning about it along with everyone else, Bradlee knows how historically vital it is, but he also knows that it has been picked up. Hanks does not have the fragility of the gin-martini that Jason Robards summoned so memorably in "All the President & # 39; s Men", and the regional inflections of Hanks come and go (the actor lends a Boston vocal to every 10th line more or less) . But he discovers Bradlee's ironic and jaded WASP-renegade charisma: the star editor's nose for the truth that arises from his acceptance of how gloomy the world is and how badly it needs to have the light on him. Despite the White House ban, Bradlee refuses to remove the biting Judith Martin (Jessie Mueller) from Tricia Nixon's wedding, and that minor decision reflects her core values. He is a player who is not going to play ball.
"The Post" has some good-time scenes set in the analogue age of reporting, especially when Ben Bagdikian (Bob Odenkirk), the beleaguered Post reporter with a long connection to Ellsberg chases him using multiple public telephones , then fly to Washington with the papers in their own special seat. The leather dimension of the reports has always been more dramatic than the contemporary scenes of researchers staring at their computer terminals.
At the same time, part of what rescues the film from any vestige of pretensions is that it is framed as a commercial drama. Streep & # 39; s Graham, who inherited the mantle of the publisher after the suicide of her husband, is about to make public the family newspaper, and much of the price of the shares: will it be $ 24.50 or $ 27? That could represent a difference of $ 3 million, which would pay for the 25 jobs of journalists. In its unconventional form, "The Post" touches the first moment when people realized that American newspapers were not necessarily a growing industry. The belief of Graham – idealist but also prophetic – is that it will be the quality of the newspapers, their influence what will allow them to flourish. Streep, speaking in an imperious nasal song, makes Graham know irresistibly, under the bluster of the Tea Party, secretly unsure of herself: the only woman in a men's boardroom, and therefore an executive who has to fly alone to find his own way.
To complicate matters, it is the fact that she is an intimate friend of Robert McNamara. Once the story of the Pentagon Papers is over, will the Post be easy for you? Or will Graham comply with Bradlee's request and exploit the friendship to obtain his own copy of the documents? The answers are: No and no. But these conversations are fascinating, because they transport us to an exotic era when editors and politicians did not consider themselves adversaries; they were all on the side of America. "The Post" is about how and why that era had to end. Bradlee, an old friend of JFK, also played the game of rubbing shoulders with power. But now, disgusted by the lies revealed in the Pentagon Papers, he enunciates the new creed. "We have to control their power," he says. "If we do not, who will?"
The film becomes a multifaceted story of journalistic triumph, with Graham poignantly realizing that she is not only in charge of the company of her late husband; is your company . The decision to publish the Papers becomes nothing less than an affirmation of democracy, which becomes even more powerful when newspapers across the country publish in solidarity. The press, the media, becomes larger than the sum of its parts. But that's because it was always like that. The Pentagon Papers marked an iconic moment in the history of the United States: the press claims its own freedom to proclaim the excesses of power. "The Post" celebrates what that means, taking advantage of the illustrated nostalgia of the glory days of the newspapers, but the film also transports you to a moment in which the result was precarious, and the freedoms that we thought we took for granted were hanging a thread . As they do today.