Saturday, April 21, 2018

The Post

The Post / The Post.
    US 2017. PC: 20th Century Fox / DreamWorks Pictures / Amblin Entertainment / Participant Media / Pascal Pictures / Star Thrower Entertainment.
    P: Steven Spielberg, Kristie Macosko Krieger / Amy Pascal. D: Steven Spielberg. SC: Liz Hannah, Josh Singer. DP: Janusz Kaminski – colour – 1,85:1 – negative: 35 mm – source: Super 35 – master: digital intermediate 4K – release formats: 35 mm, D-Cinema. PD: Rick Carter. AD: Kim Jennings, Deborah Jensen. Set dec: Rena DeAngelo. Cost: Ann Roth. Makeup: Judy Chin. Hair: Christine Fennell, Kay Georgiou. VFX: Lola VFX. M: John Williams. Soundtrack: "Green River" (John Fogerty) perf. Creedence Clearwater Revival, etc. S: Brian Chumney, Richard Hymns. ED: Michael Kahn, Sarah Broshar. Casting: Ellen Lewis.
    C: Meryl Streep (Katharine Graham), Tom Hanks (Ben Bradlee), Sarah Paulson (Antoinette "Tony" Pinchot Bradlee), Bob Odenkirk (Ben Bagdikian), Tracy Letts (Fritz Beebe), Bradley Whitford (Arthur Parsons), Bruce Greenwood (Robert McNamara), Matthew Rhys (Daniel Ellsberg), Alison Brie (Lally Graham), Carrie Coon (Meg Greenfield), Jesse Plemons (Roger Clark), David Cross (Howard Simons), Michael Stuhlbarg (A. M. Rosenthal), Zach Woods (Anthony Essaye).
    Dedicated to Nora Ephron.
    Release date: 22 Dec 2017 (limited), 12 Jan 2018 (wide).
    Finnish premiere: 2 Feb 2018, released by Nordisk Film in D-Cinema with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Jaana Wiik / Ditte Kronström.
    Viewed at Tennispalatsi 14, 21 April 2018.
    113 min

A major historical drama, a key story about the freedom of the press, one of the finest newspaper movies, a great tale about America, an essential feminist film.

Written by Liz Hannah who was inspired by the memoirs of Katharine Graham (Personal History, 1997). Her collaborator was a more experienced screenwriter, Josh Singer, the scenarist of The Fifth Estate (2013, on WikiLeaks) and Spotlight (2014, on the Boston Globe's exposure of the Boston Catholic priests' pedophilia tragedy). The powerful screenplay is strong on suspense based purely on the facts of the matter. We learn private aspects of the protagonists, but the tensions rise solely from the Pentagon Papers case.

Steven Spielberg has for a long time alternated between serious historical subjects and spectacles of popular entertainment. In The Post he is at his best. In some of his serious works there has been a slight tendency to prolong discourse, but The Post is taut and brisk, executed with a perfect sense of rhythm.

Among the films with which The Post is compared is naturally Alan Pakula's All the President's Men (1974) with which it shares a protagonist, Ben Bradlee, played in Pakula's film by Jason Robards.

The Post is very different from Pakula's noirish classic of Nixon-era paranoia. The Post is more sunny, more family-centered. There is a family atmosphere even in the Washington Post newsroom. The family focus provides a major point of conflict, too. Katharine Graham and Ben Bradlee have become family friends of presidents, and Robert McNamara is Katharine Graham's mentor. Now it turns out that he has been lying blatantly to everybody about America's involvement in Vietnam. The conflict is the greatest possible for the newspaperwoman.

This is very strong stuff, and Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks rise to the occasion magnificently, both doing some of their best work.

The Post resonates powerfully in the age of Donald Trump, President of the United States since 2017. Freedom and authority can never be taken for granted.

A very special and highly moving accent in the movie is the feminist angle. Katharine Graham was the first female publisher of a major American newspaper. In this film we observe her being systematically underrated and disparaged. But against the judgement of all the other members of her (otherwise all male) board she makes the decision to run the story of the Pentagon papers.

In the court battle of the press versus the White House the Supreme Court rules in the newspapers' favour. When Graham emerges from the court, she is surrounded by women who look at her in silent admiration. There was a special charged intensity in the atmosphere of the cinema, too, during this sequence.

The cinematography of Janusz Kaminski is very different from Gordon Willis in All the President's Men. The feeling of warmth is palpable. There is also a slight feeling of digital airbrushing in the photography of Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks, a sense of them being between real people and animated characters. I guess I would prefer gritty 1970s aesthetics.

The score of John Williams is the work of a master. Maybe a little less would be more. Dramatic highlights may be more effective played without background music.

The film starts in medias res with a scene in Vietnam, with Daniel Ellsberg on a Pentagon mission for Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. There is no credit sequence in the beginning. The sound starts immediately with "Green River" by Creedence Clearwater Revival, my favourite CCR track and a favourite song of mine of all times; for me, the track was so strong that it threw the movie off balance at first. The obvious choice would have been "Fortunate Son", or perhaps "Run Through the Jungle" (which, however, is not a Vietnam song: "200 million guns are loaded" refers to the weapons that the homes of America possess). But "Green River" is there for contrast: the bucolic ideal of American youth instead of the meaningless hell of Vietnam.

Significantly, the narrative of The Post is a corrective to "Fortunate Son" ("some folks are born silver spoon in hand"). Even Katharine Graham's son Donald served in Vietnam. The Pentagon Papers' revelation that we knew that the war would be lost was very personal history for Katharine Graham.

NB. 10 May 2018. Today I was thinking about The Post and was in tears. I was thinking about my mother Anneli Alanen (1928–2015), a registered nurse who was an activist in road traffic security planning, also an environmentalist and "green traffic" pioneer. She sat in several committees and boards, usually as the only woman in an otherwise all male panel. She was also the only representative of the silent majority of pedestrians, cyclists and other users of light traffic. A systematic underestimating of women was her daily experience. What she fought for is now generally accepted.


In 1966 Vietnam, State Department military analyst Daniel Ellsberg accompanies U.S. troops in combat, documenting the progress of U.S. military activities in the region for Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. On the return flight home, McNamara expresses to Ellsberg and William Macomber his view that the war in Vietnam is hopeless, yet, upon landing, McNamara expresses to the press his confidence in the war effort. Ellsberg overhears this, and becomes disillusioned. Years later, now working for the RAND Corporation, a civilian military contractor, Ellsberg surreptitiously photocopies classified reports documenting the country's decades-long involvement in the conflict in Vietnam, dating back to the Truman administration. Ellsberg then leaks these documents to reporters at The New York Times.

Newspaper heiress Katharine Graham tries to balance her social life with her responsibility as owner and publisher of The Washington Post, following the deaths of her husband, and her father. She is troubled over preparations for the newspaper's stock market launch, a move she recognizes as important for strengthening the paper's economic stability. Graham lacks experience and is frequently overruled by more assertive men who advise or work for her, such as editor-in-chief Ben Bradlee, and board member Arthur Parsons. Bradlee tries in vain to match The New York Times's ability to get scoops. Meanwhile, McNamara, Graham's longtime friend, confides in her that he is to be the subject of unflattering coverage by the Times. The story turns out to be an exposé of the government's long-running deception of the American public. However, the series is halted by a court injunction against further publication by the Times.

Post assistant editor Ben Bagdikian tracks down Ellsberg as the source for the leak, who provides Bagdikian with copies of the same material given to the Times. A hand-picked team of Post reporters sorts through the piles of papers, searching for the headline stories. The lawyers for the Post advise against publishing the material, lest the Nixon administration bring criminal charges against them. Graham talks to McNamara, Bradlee, and trusted Post chairman Fritz Beebe, agonizing over the decision of whether to publish. The situation is made even more complicated when the Post's lawyers discover that Bagdikian's source is the same as the Times's, possibly putting Graham in contempt of court. If charges are brought against the company, Graham could destroy the newspaper she sees as a family legacy. Alternately, if she were to win any legal challenge, the Post could instead establish itself as an important journalistic institution. She chooses to run the story.

The White House retaliates, and in short order the Post and Times appear together before the Supreme Court to plead their First Amendment argument for the right to publish the material. Meanwhile, newspapers across the country pick up the story in solidarity with the Post and Times. The court rules 6–3 in the newspapers' favor, vindicating Graham's decision. Nixon demands that the Post should be barred from the White House. One year later, security guard Frank Wills discovers a break-in in progress at the Watergate complex.

No comments: