Movie Review - The Post
Written by Liz Hannah and Josh Singer who won the Oscar for penning Spotlight, this movie starts with the Vietnam War, 1966. It follows Daniel Ellsberg, played by Matthew Rhys (The Americans and Brothers & Sisters), an employee of the RAND Corporation, a nonprofit organization that was contracted by the U.S. government for strategic analysis. Daniel is seen observing and then writing about the war. At first, one might assume him to be a news reporter but no. He's there to offer advice and ultimately help with a commissioned report by the Secretary of Defense. Based on what he's witnessed first-hand, which is the war not going well, Daniel knows the government officials are lying when they go in front of the news media and proclaim the war is going well. When Daniel finally looks at the commissioned report, he learns that it's more than just a few white lies to the press. He learns there's a deeper cover-up and huge misdeeds that betray the American public's trust.
Tom Hanks co-stars as Ben Bradlee, the executive editor at The Washington Post. He pretty much runs the newsroom. He's in charge of assigning and overseeing the stories that go into the paper. He catches wind of the story about Daniel Ellsberg who first leaks the commissioned report, also known as the "Pentagon Papers," to The New York Times. Once Ben realizes they've been scooped, he goes on a dogged pursuit to follow this story too, and his pursuit clashes with Kay.
The first clashes are on ethical levels. Because Kay is a wealthy DC socialite who knows a lot of people, she happens to be friends with Robert McNamara, played by Bruce Greenwood. McNamara was the Secretary of Defense who commissioned the Pentagon Papers. McNamara was also the Secretary of Defense under President John F. Kennedy before resigning in 1968. It's funny because Greenwood played Kennedy in the film Thirteen Days (2000). Ben doesn't know about Daniel Ellsberg at first but he does know that McNamara must be behind the Pentagon Papers, so he wants Kay to get McNamara to be his source about the Pentagon Papers. This raises interesting ethical questions about the relationship between journalists or those who work for the news media and their sources. Can someone in the news media be friends with a source or the subject of their story? Kay and Ben clash over it.
However, the main issue is that of leaked documents from arguably a government whistle-blower, that whistle-blower being Daniel Ellsberg. Yes, all of this goes down under the Nixon administration, but for those who think there is a straight line from this to the Trump administration might be wishfully thinking. Who is the Ellsberg of the Trump administration? James Comey! Some have compared Trump's firing of Comey to that of Nixon's "Saturday Night Massacre," but the corollary isn't exactly the same for the purposes of this movie.
The "Saturday Night Massacre" was in the midst of the Watergate scandal. This movie ends just as the Watergate scandal is beginning. In that respect, this film could be considered a prequel to All the President's Men (1976). Yet, Trump has no Ellsberg of his own yet. However, there are a couple of people of this past year who have drawn comparisons to Ellsberg. One person who caught headlines this year is Chelsea Manning. Another of yesteryear was Edward Snowden. Manning leaked classified government documents regarding lies about a war just like Ellsberg. The only difference is that the war was in Iraq not Vietnam, and instead of a newspaper, she leaked her documents to the website Wikileaks. Yes, the Iraq War was the instigation of President George W. Bush, but some of Manning's leaks were also about President Barack Obama's administration.
This film also features a great supporting cast. It includes a Breaking Bad reunion between Bob Odenkirk and Jesse Plemons. It briefly spotlighted Tracy Letts and Alison Brie who with this film mark their third film of the year. Sarah Paulson and Bradley Whitford also represent the opposite ends of the spectrum of how Kay is perceived. It is one of the best of the year.
Rated PG-13 for language and brief war violence.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 55 mins.
In Select Theaters.
In More Theaters on January 12.