The relationship between the media and politicians is an every changing dance that has a particularly high position in the American experience. The first amendment to the document that set the country finding principals was to ensure the freedom of the press. In the time before the setting of the film editors and publishers dined with Presidents, Cabinet Secretaries, and congressmen both sides knowing that they would likely not print anything to hurt their friends. All this changed during the Vietnam War and into the early seventies as the country was bogged down in a foreign war halfway around the world with no sitting President wanting to be the one to concede defeat for the first time in American history.
The Pentagon Papers were the result of a study commissioned by Defense Secretary McNamara on the history of the U.S. role in Indochina. When the report came back unfavourable McNamara who was former counsel for the Washington Post continued to portray that the war was winnable and going as planned. Academic Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys) objected to McNamara's position taking the copy of the study from his employers office at Rand Corporation leaking it to New York Times reporter Neil Sheehan. The Times decision to print the documents turned the paper into an enemy of the Nixon White House singling out specific journalists for vitriol in the Oval Office. An Attorney General cease and desist order shut the Times down sparking the tracing of a source by Post reporter Ben Bagdikian (Bob Odenkirk) landing the Post with 4000 pages of the papers with 12 hours to sort, vet, write, proof and decide if they should publish.
Meryl Streep is firmly standing at the top of her craft in the role of Kay Graham. She finds herself at the head of the family paper built by her legendary father then handed over to her husband who met with an untimely end. Graham is often in a room full of men who placate but don't respect her often leaving her to take counsel that doesn't have the newspaper's best interest in mind. Bob Bradlee (Tom Hanks) knows that the paper can grow to national status but to do so its leaders can't put personal Washington relationships ahead of the paper's obligations to the public. It's the first time Streep and Hanks have shared the screen and from their first scene together for a breakfast meeting in a swanky Washington power room the audience can see that they are in for an acting masterclass. Bob Odenkirk continues his acting renaissance as Ben Bagdikian the reporter that follows the breadcrumbs of the Times source to the doorstep of his former Rand co-worker Daniel Ellsberg.
Director Steven Spielberg gets off the fence and takes a side with this film. Departing from his last couple of outings in the director's chair that played it pretty much down the middle. Here he's against the notation that the role of a paper is to protect government secrets instead it's to serve the interest of the American people. Spielberg often chose to go without music in the piece a choice that helps the viewer to focus on the monumental importance of the events as they unfold. The side that Spielberg plants his flag is that of the Supreme Court in their July 71 decision very timely today as the current occupant of the White House often sees the media as the enemy and like Nixon tries to bring the power of the Presidency to bear against those in the press that dare attempt to hold the government to account.
***1/2 Out of 4.
The Post | Steven Spielberg | U.S.A. | 2018 | 115 Minutes.
Tags: Vietnam, New York Times, Washington Post, Stock Offering, National Security, Espionage Act, Supreme Court, Rand Corporation, Leaking, Lemonade.